Starkville, Miss. • Cowbells will ring, or clang, or jingle, or whatever sound thousands and thousands of cowbells make when commandeered by more than 60,000 frenzied fans on Saturday morning as demoralized BYU limps into Southeastern Conference territory.
The Cougars are at Davis Wade Stadium for only the second time ever for a seemingly inevitable beatdown at the hands of a team they somehow defeated exactly a year ago, Mississippi State. It is a scene the Cougars have prepared for, even unexpectedly.
Kickoff was set last week at 10 a.m. MDT, or about the same time of the day that the 1-5 Cougars are halfway through their usual practices in Provo. So at least the alarms on their phones going off at 6 a.m. won’t be a shocker.
The rematch of BYU’s 28-21 double-overtime victory will be televised by the SEC Network, but college football observers are not expecting anything close to last year’s thriller.
Having lost five straight games in a season for the first time since 1970, BYU is a 24-point underdog, the most points since it was a 21-point underdog at No. 4 TCU in 2010 and lost 31-3.
As for the cowbells, the Cougars have much bigger problems to deal with, including their pathetic 11.7 scoring average and 253.5 yards-per-game average on offense. But they expect plenty of those as well.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said offensive line coach Mike Empey, an assistant in 2001 when BYU defeated MSU 41-38 on a last-second field goal by Matt Payne. He was talking about the cowbells, of course, and presumably not the offense’s ineptitude.
Empey brought a cowbell to a scouting report meeting and told the players it will be 65,000 times louder Saturday.
According to the so-called “cowbell compromise” in 2011 among SEC members, fans can’t ring them “from the time the offensive center is over the football until the play is whistled dead.”
Asked Monday if he likes the sound, BYU cornerback Troy Warner, a Californian, said “we will find out” and then mentioned he watched Mississippi State rout BYU-killer LSU 37-7 on Sept. 16 and thought the atmosphere “was pretty cool.”
Of course, Warner won’t be trying to resuscitate a still-lousy BYU offense that didn’t cross the 50-yard line, let alone score, the last time it faced an SEC defense. LSU won 27-0 in the Superdome. Junior QB Tanner Mangum will be the starter, although he has acknowledged his left ankle is nowhere near 100 percent and he was benched late in the 24-7 loss to Boise State in favor of freshman Joe Critchlow, thereby altering the recently returned missionary’s redshirt plans.
“It is going to be a great opportunity, down in Starkville, in a hostile environment,” Mangum said. “They definitely love getting after their opponents with the cowbells and everything. So it is going to be something we have to prepare for. We are going to be up for the challenge and embrace it. They have beaten some good teams this year and deserve a lot of credit. So it is going to take our best shot. We are doing everything we can to make sure we are sharp and ready to go.”
Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer acknowledged Tuesday that BYU’s offense is “a lot different” than the one he envisioned when he got the job 21 months ago. It is more of a spread attack out of the shotgun formation. The pro-style system that Detmer prefers has mostly been scrapped because Mangum and the other four QBs who have played like the shotgun better.
“So I am learning a ton, on the fly here, as far as some of the other nuances to a spread offense and zone read and bubbles and [run-pass-options] and all those things that I am not as familiar with, and [I am] not afraid to admit it,” Detmer said.
“So, we are learning a lot this year about different schemes and different things,” he continued. “It will be good for the future. But right now we are taking our lumps trying to figure it out. It is a work in progress.”
It is very slow progress at that, and not likely to change in the din of the place they like to call Stark Vegas.
BYU at Mississippi State
At Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss.
Kickoff •10 a.m. MDT
TV • SEC Network
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM143
Records • BYU 1-5, Mississippi State 3-2
Series history • BYU leads, 2-1
Last meeting • BYU 28, Mississippi State 21 2OT (Oct. 14, 2016)
About the Bulldogs • They are coming off an open week and are playing at home for the first time in 28 days. … They have dropped their last two games, 31-3 to No. 4 Georgia and 49-10 to No. 10 Auburn. They defeated LSU 37-7 two weeks after the Tigers blasted BYU 27-0. … Junior QB Nick Fitzgerald has accounted for 56 career touchdowns, second in school history to Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, who had 114.
About the Cougars • They have lost five straight games in a single season for the first time since 1970 and are 1-5 for the first time since 1973. They haven’t been 1-6 since 1968, when they eventually reached 1-7 before defeating New Mexico. … They are 127th in total offense (253.5 yards per game) and scoring offense (11.7 points per game). … Junior Tanner Mangum is expected to get the start at quarterback despite an ailing left ankle, with freshman Joe Critchlow his backup because sophomore Beau Hoge is still recovering from a concussion suffered against Utah State.