BATON ROUGE, La. — If Danny Etling leads LSU on a game-winning drive in the clanging din of Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium this Saturday, you may consider thanking A.J. Grady’s mom.
“A.J. Grady’s mom,” Etling said. “That’s my lone exposure to a cowbell.”
Grady was Etling’s junior high football teammate in Terre Haute, Ind. And his mother dutifully showed up to all of their games, cowbell in one hand and drum stick in the other, clanging away in a manner that would surely please Christopher Walken’s character in the iconic “Saturday Night Live” sketch that turned “More Cowbell!” into a catchphrase.
“His mom would bring a cowbell to every single game,” Etling said. “And just, ‘Bam!’”
In high school, Etling and Grady went from teammates to rivals. Etling attended North Vigo High in Terre Haute and Grady attended South Vigo. But sure enough, through four years of rivalry games, Mrs. Grady could be heard loud and clear by Etling for the entire game.
“Every time we played, we heard it,” Etling said. “So I’ve heard enemy cowbells before. But just one. A singular cowbell.”
That number will be multiplied by 50,000 or so come Saturday night, which is a bit like jumping from a bike with training wheels onto a Harley. Even those who have heard it themselves concede that the Davis Wade experience isn’t quite like anything else in the SEC.
“It’s definitely unique, I’ll give you that,” said center Will Clapp. “You don’t have many places where you walk out of the tunnel and have 30,000 cowbells shaking in your face.”
Clapp was thrown into the cowbell fire in 2015, making his first career start at Davis Wade as a freshman.
“It was very loud,” Clapp said. “I was very happy I wasn’t playing center because Ethan [Pocic] had quite an ordeal on his hands making calls with the amount of sound they had there.”
This time, however, Clapp is playing center. But playing next to Pocic at right guard that night showed him how it has to be done when the bells of Starkville are ringing.
“It definitely got the shell-shock out of the way,” Clapp said. “It’s communication. When we’re at home, the tight ends and tackles can hear what I’m saying. Now everything I say they really have to tune in to, because the guards have to pass it down the line.”
Threat of cowbell brings LSU penalties to forefront
Pre-snap communication would be a concern in any given season, but right now it is a red-alert matter for the Tigers. LSU committed five pre-snap penalties against BYU and then another against Chattanooga in front of friendly crowds.
Senior H-back J.D. Moore did not mince words about the issue — it is LSU’s top concern this week.
“We made mental errors that were like Week 1 kind of stuff,” Moore said. “I’m not talking Week 1 game. I’m talking Week 1 [of] camp-type problems.”
Moore doesn’t accept that these mistakes should be seen as inevitable just because Matt Canada’s new motion-heavy offense is in its early stages.
“It may seem inevitable, but our standard is to remove them completely,” Moore said. “To play like we’ve been playing against the teams we’ll see down the road won’t hold up. We have to eliminate those penalties so we can run our offense to our maximum potential.”
As it turns out, this test may be the one the Tigers need to clean things up with four more SEC road games looming on the schedule.
“Even though they aren’t allowed to use the cowbells in play, a lot of our communication goes on pre-snap. It still has a big effect,” Moore said. “… Penalties can make or break the game. We have to shape up on that.”