Former Missouri receiver Bud Sasser couldn’t stand the noise.
He found it annoying. He didn’t want to be practicing in the week before a game while listening to audio that was nothing close to music.
“It is like if you turned cheers on a playlist and turned it up to the max,” Sasser said.
And that’s just what former Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and his staff did. The Georgia game week in October 2013 was not the first time Pinkel’s staff decided to add loud background noise to practice. It also was not the first coaching staff to introduce the annoyance either.
But for the Tigers during this week in 2013, the cacophony proved its worth.
When the Tigers went to play in Athens in one of the loudest stadiums in which Sasser said he played, the crowd noise didn’t overwhelm Missouri. The Tigers strolled into Sanford Stadium and upset Georgia 41-26.
Missouri has not won in Athens since that day. And the Tigers are not alone. Sanford Stadium provides one of the Southeastern Conference’s toughest away games for opposing teams. Including the loss to South Carolina this season, Georgia has lost only nine games in Athens over the past decade.
Missouri will look to add another loss to that short list this Saturday, as well as avoid a three-game losing streak.
“This will be the loudest environment that we play in,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said.
Which is why Odom has also employed background noise at practice this week.
Sasser called the noise within Sanford Stadium deafening.
“You don’t hear anything,” Sasser said. “You just hear ringing.”
Former Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who played in Athens in 2013 and 2015, said it’s one of the top three college stadiums in which he played. Part of that has to do with the size and looks. But most of what makes it memorable is the crowd.
Brothers didn’t truly understand how loud it was until the crowd became quiet.
“You’re going to hear the loud and quiet,” Brothers said. “It’s literally like an on and off switch.”
Missouri experienced plenty of both in 2013.
Georgia scored first, but it was all Missouri for the rest of the first half. The 28-10 lead at halftime put the sound switch firmly in the off position.
Then, Georgia started its comeback, drawing within two in the fourth quarter. The crowd noise returned along with it.
That’s when the practices with the noise Sasser dreaded became extra worthwhile.
“We just made some adjustments and realized, ‘OK, we have done this already,’” Sasser said. “We have been through all of this noise and we will just do it again.’”
Then, Sasser threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to L’Damian Washington. Missouri rolled to its victory from there, handing Georgia its only home loss of the season as well as one of the few from the decade.
So, what does it takes to accomplish this feat?
A complete game. Simple, and as complex, as that.
It’s a phrase that appears frequently in coach and player speak, but that’s what it takes to win in hostile Sanford Stadium. There’s no way around it. That’s what it took for Missouri to emerge with its only victory in eight tries all time against Georgia.
Three different players rushed for touchdowns. Eight different receivers caught at least one pass.
More importantly, the offense didn’t turn the ball over. The defense forced four turnovers.
South Carolina had an identical turnover margin in its 20-17 victory earlier this season.
Turnovers can serve as the equalizer and the silencer of 90,000 fans, a necessary element when those fans are cheering for the other team.
“People hear that a lot, ‘Oh, it’s only us,’” Brothers said. “But no. That’s really the case when you go to a place like that. No one else there wants you to win, so you have to depend on each other for that assurance.”
The mental game is a significant part to succeeding in Georgia if you ask Sasser and Brothers. Sasser said teams have to believe they can win first. Brothers said it’s important to find ways to mentally settle in before and during the early parts of the game. For Brothers, that meant watching Ray Lewis inspiration videos.
“When you focus on what you are supposed to do, you go out there and ball and have a great game,” Brothers said, “there’s nothing else left to be done.”
Whether that is enough for Missouri to win this weekend against No. 6 Georgia remains to be seen. Either way, it’s likely going to be a game most of the Tigers won’t forget.
Crowd noise and all.