AUBURN, Ala. — Playing its first away game of the season in October was already going to be a strange adjustment for Auburn.
So it only seems fitting that the venue for Auburn’s opening road trip is the strangest in the entire SEC — Davis Wade Stadium, home of 60,000-plus fans and almost as many cowbells.
“That’s a big factor, there’s no doubt,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “This is kind of rare that we’ve had five home games … We’ll do a good job with the things in practice as far as the crowd noise and everything that goes with that. That’ll be a big focus this week to help with that.”
After five weeks of playing in front of their home fans, the noise situation for the Tigers will be completely flipped this Saturday in Starkville.
The Auburn offense will have six first-time road starters against Mississippi State, including the primary running back and three key wide receivers. The vast majority of their experience has come with crowds keeping it calm before the snap.
Now they’ll face the noise of screaming fans and clanging cowbells.
“Loud is loud,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “But they do have a tendency sometimes to just, the constant ringing, it’s kind of like a dripping faucet a little bit. I think if you let your mind go there, it can affect you. But you can’t.”
Several of Auburn’s newer offensive contributors are relying on the experience of players such as left guard Alex Kozan and right guard Braden Smith, who have faced some of the toughest road environments in the league.
Those two will line up alongside center Xavier Dampeer, a senior who is in his first year as a starter. The focus has been on Auburn keeping its penalty yardage — the lowest in the SEC through five games — at a minimum against an opposing crowd that will look to cause pre-snap missteps.
“It’s going to be a big communication week because they do have the cowbells and now that they’ve bowled that one end (of Davis Wade Stadium) it is louder than it used to be,” Malzahn said. “Communication will definitely be a big part of this week … Those veteran guards around (Dampeer), it will do nothing but help.”
Even though Auburn starting quarterback Sean White is a sophomore, he has experience in SEC road games. White had his two best performances of the 2015 season away from home in a victory at Kentucky and a multi-overtime loss at Arkansas, throwing for more than 250 yards in each.
Now a stronger and more confident quarterback in Malzahn’s system, White embraces the task ahead of him in Starkville.
“I think, you know, playing on the road is — I wouldn’t say fun — but I like the challenge of playing on the road,” White said Tuesday. “You go into another team’s environment, it’s a hostile environment. Every environment is in the SEC. It’s a challenge to go in there and play good and play well and steal a win in another team’s territory. And that’s a fun challenge for me.”
For Auburn’s defense, the communication is about to get easier. In the first five games this season, Kevin Steele’s unit had to manage getting pre-snap calls and checks right while the Jordan-Hare Stadium faithful tried to make it as difficult as possible on the opposing offense.
So the task for the defense this week is getting the younger players to prepare for the newness of playing in unfamiliar territory, no matter the volume level.
“You always prepare for those situations. We practice with noise and all those types of things anyway, so we’re prepared for all that anyway,” Auburn senior cornerback Josh Holsey said Tuesday. “Just a new environment; you got to get used to it … Just the young guys, probably, it’ll be a new experience for those guys, but for the most part, a lot of us older guys know what it’s like to go on the road and play.”
One of those young guys is sophomore linebacker Deshaun Davis, who has emerged as a leader for the entire defense in the first five home games of 2016.
He’ll enjoy not having to scream in the ear of his teammates to get them set, but he’s not a fan of all the clanging he’ll hear between plays at Mississippi State.
“I always hated those cowbells, even when I was getting recruited (at Mississippi State),” Davis said. “I went there and I was like there’s no way I could play at a school like this with the cowbells … We’re not really going to hear it, but when the offense is out there, I know it’s going to be really nerve-wracking.”