STARKVILLE, Miss. — Not only is BYU struggling to figure out how to score points this season, this week it also has been trying to figure out how to match up with a big, fast, physical Southeastern Conference opponent in Mississippi State.
But the Cougars will have to deal with a new and different kind of challenge at Davis Wade Stadium — cowbells.
To prepare the players for this upcoming onslaught on noise, BYU offensive line coach Mike Empey showed up at Tuesday’s practice in Provo with a cowbell, which Bulldog fans love clanging during their games.
“I wanted to slap it out of his hand,” said Cougar wide receiver Neil Pau’u. “That was probably my first time hearing a cowbell. Coach Empey started shaking that cowbell and with 55,000 shaking cowbells, it will probably be super annoying. I mean, just one cowbell was super annoying. But I think it will be fun. It will be a memory for a lifetime to share with kids and family. We’re all excited to go down there.”
For this game to be a truly memorable experience, the Cougars would need to spring an improbable upset.
Cowbells are the least of their problems.
BYU, which has lost five straight games, is a big underdog against MSU (3-2) as the two teams meet Saturday (10 a.m., MDT, SEC Network).
The last time the Cougars (1-5) opened a season with a 1-6 record was in 1968.
“We’re looking forward to the game and trying to get this thing turned around,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “Hopefully it happens this weekend.”
Mississippi State is the last Power 5 opponent on BYU’s schedule.
“I think it’s exciting. The SEC — it’s a great opportunity to go out and make a statement,” said cornerback Troy Warner. “Even though we’re going through some downs right now, it’s a great chance for us to go show people that we still can win games this year.”
“We’ve played in NFL stadiums and stuff, but I’ve never been to Mississippi,” said cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku. “It’s going to be a first for me and for a lot of guys on the team.”
What is Ghanwoloku looking forward to most Saturday?
“Hopefully a win, to be honest,” he said. “I feel like our team manned up and figured out what we need to do to change and start winning again. I’m looking forward to playing another game and showcasing what we can do.”
It won’t be easy for BYU against a Mississippi State team that whipped LSU, 37-7, a month ago. On Sept. 2, LSU throttled the Cougars, 27-0.
“It’s going to be a great challenge. I always love going against good opponents like SEC teams and Power 5 teams,” said defensive lineman Kesni Tausinga. “It gives us a chance to test our skills. Last year we had a great game with them. That was one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played in against Mississippi State.
"I think we’re looking for another fight this week, similar to the game we had last year with them. They have a great quarterback (Nick Fitzgerald) and a good O-line. Our main goal is to shut down their quarterback from running the ball. He’s their leading rusher. I think that’s the biggest challenge for us, to contain him.”
The Cougars are desperate to end their losing streak. They haven’t tasted victory in 50 days.
“It’s tough. It’s never easy to lose a game,” Warner said. “Obviously, it’s never easy to lose five in a row. Our mindset right now is to continue to get better and prepare for the next opponent. You have to forget about the loss that happened and move on. That’s what we’re doing.”
On top of all of the adversity BYU has experienced this season, the Cougars will have to deal with a hostile crowd and a bunch of cowbells Saturday.
“You’ve got to embrace that. It will be fun,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum. “It’s a fun environment, a fun time to play It’s fun being an underdog a little bit. The crowd’s rooting against you. It gets you pumped up.”
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Cougars on the air
at Mississippi State (3-2)
Saturday, 10 a.m. MDT Davis Wade Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM