COLUMBIA — The Southeastern Conference officially moved Saturday's LSU-Missouri game to Faurot Field because of the looming threat of Hurricane Delta.
But No. 17 LSU (1-1) will still be the home team, another strange twist to the 2020 season.
The two programs made the best of an unfortunate situation quickly Tuesday as Delta strengthened from a Category 2 to a Category 4 storm, and is expected to make landfall sometime Friday.
The game will be played at 11 a.m., rather than the previously scheduled 8 p.m. at Tiger Stadium, with a TV station to be determined, though Wednesday's postponement of Louisiana-Coastal Carolina in the same time slot opens up ESPN2 as a likely home.
"It was critical to relocate the game to an SEC campus where SEC COVID-19 management protocols are in place and readily applied," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday in a statement. "I appreciate the cooperation of the schools who are working closely to make the appropriate operational adjustments in order to prioritize the health and safety of our student-athletes while accommodating this change in the schedule."
Missouri (0-2) sent out an email to donors and season ticket holders Wednesday morning to give those groups the first opportunity to claim tickets to the game, which will be capped at the same capacity of approximately 11,700 fans as the season-opener against Alabama. LSU will be allotted the SEC-limit of 500 tickets, and 1,000 are being reserved for MU students, but any gate revenue after Missouri covers operations costs will go to LSU.
After playing at Vanderbilt last week, LSU will now play three consecutive road games, culminating with No. 4 Florida next Saturday. Though LSU will be counted as the home team, Missouri will still get to use its home locker rooms because of coronavirus protocols.
"I do believe that it'd have been very difficult to play an 8 o'clock game, and travel back and come back Sunday morning at four o'clock," LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said Wednesday on the weekly teleconference. "It takes two days to recover, talking to our trainers, takes two days to recover playing an 11 o'clock game, but we'll be back in Baton Rouge about six or seven o'clock at night. I think our team, our coaches will get more rest."
LSU and Florida, two programs that play annually as part of a cross-division rivalry, had to move a game from Gainesville, Fla., to Baton Rouge in 2016 due to Hurricane Matthew, which was also moved to an 11 a.m. kick. As a result, LSU had to play consecutive games in Gainesville to make up for it, and was a source of strife between the two athletic departments.
It doesn't sound like the same was true here. Missouri's Jim Sterk (Washington State) and LSU's Scott Woodward (Washington) have previous experience working together.
"While we are disappointed to not play in Tiger Stadium this weekend, Hurricane Delta's current path and the need to play in a venue with SEC COVID-19 protocols in place made this change an absolute necessity," Woodward said in a statement. "I want to thank Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk for accommodating this on such short notice and commissioner Sankey for his continued leadership of our conference. I also want to thank those in other cities and venues who reached out to assist, including Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins and his staff. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those in the path of this dangerous storm. Be safe."
LSU also reportedly reached out to the NFL's Cowboys and Texans about moving the game to an NFL facility, but both have home games this weekend and the NFL is enduring several different coronavirus outbreaks that have postponed games.
Orgeron said LSU is expected to fly to Columbia either today or Friday, and will go through a walkthrough at Missouri's indoor practice facility Friday in preparation for Saturday's early kick.
"This is going to be an extremely safe place for those players and everybody that's traveling to Columbia from from LSU," Drinkwitz said on the teleconference, "and just so glad and thankful that we were able to move the game up to 11 o'clock so that those guys can get home safely. That they're going to be able to get back and land hopefully during daylight, so that if there was no electricity or anything like that, that they would be safe and it wasn't because they were trying to get back and save the extra travel time on their guys."
Hurricane Delta is expected to dump rain across a large swath of the SEC footprint Saturday, including Alabama at Mississippi.
Drinkwitz said he had some experience with hurricanes in his time at North Carolina State, including a 10-3 home win against Notre Dame in which DeShone Kizer and Ryan Finley combined to complete 14-of-38 passes for 81 yards in a deluge. In 2018, Hurricane Florence canceled a game between the Wolfpack and West Virginia.