TAMPA, Fla. — You’ve heard about Mississippi State and the cowbell thing. One of the first things the Outback Bowl let everyone know about this year’s game was that, yes, cowbells would be allowed into Raymond James Stadium.
We’re not talking some kind of toy. These things are full-size, real-life cowbells. The handles look like they came off a pistol or a really great golf umbrella.
Brandon Smith knows all about the cowbells.
Smith’s dad, Roy, and sister, Brianna, are Mississippi State grads. On the flip side, Brandon and his mom, Tyjauna, were Ole Miss fans. Tyjuana ran track at Ole Miss. The family attended many Egg Bowls in Starkville and Oxford.
So, from an Ole Miss fan and now Iowa Hawkeye who’ll be lining up against the Bulldogs in Tuesday’s Outback Bowl, here’s one man’s review of the cowbell:
“The cowbell is real loud and obnoxious,” Smith said after the Hawkeyes’ practice Thursday at the University of Tampa. “That’s another reason my mom and I didn’t like Mississippi State. My mom hates the cowbells. My sister would ring it in the house just to get her mad.”
How this will go on Tuesday is Brianna, who holds the indoor record for the weight throw at MSU, will have a cowbell but will be wearing Iowa gear.
At some point, blood does run thicker than loud stadium noisemakers. Probably.
“I’m sure she’s going to be ringing the cowbell in my mom’s ear up in the stands,” Smith said.
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When the Iowa-MSU Outback Bowl matchup started to come out, Tyjuana beat Brandon to the phone call.
“She was more excited than me,” Smith said. “She was like, ‘We have to get after them.’”
Smith ran around his Iowa City apartment screaming. He ran over to his neighbor’s apartment. Don’t worry, his neighbor is senior safety Jake Gervase. He was excited, too.
“I told him, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get ready, we’ve got to beat these guys,’” Smith said.
The Hawkeyes (8-4) are getting ready to face No. 18 Mississippi State (8-4), which features one of the nation’s top defenses. The Hawkeyes are, of course, without tight end Noah Fant, who announced earlier this month that he will enter the NFL draft.
That will change the percentages on how much Iowa uses two-tight end sets. And, yes, Iowa’s offense will find itself leaning a little bit more on wide receivers Smith, Nick Easley and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
“Certainly, it’s going to change some of our personnel groupings and things like that, give some other guys some opportunities to make some plays, really I think it’s a positive for us,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said.
Tight end T.J. Hockenson could end up split out more, in the role that Fant used to occupy. Everyone is on the board right now. Brian Ferentz mentioned getting the running backs more involved in the passing game.
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“We have other good players, too,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The receivers are doing a good job, so if we’re out there in a three-wide receiver set, we feel good about those guys and just try to be smart about what we plan.”
Smith, Smith-Marsette and Easley have set the pace in games for the Hawkeyes this season. In a 48-31 victory at Minnesota, the trio combined for 14 receptions for 198 yards and two TDs. Smith’s day included one of those catches where the receiver hugs the defensive back and actually grabs the ball behind the defender’s back.
It was the kind of play that, yeah, would get you more cowbell.
“We’ve been waiting on this opportunity to showcase our talents,” Smith said. “As a receiver group, I feel like we improved from last year to this year. We really had an improvement year.”
Smith said Ole Miss wanted him to play defense. Mississippi State didn’t come knocking until after he committed to the Hawkeyes. When Iowa signed Smith out of Mississippi in 2017, some of his Lake Cormorant, Miss., hometown folks confused his Iowa gear for Southern Miss.
Now, after a season with 25 catches, 328 yards and a pair of SportsCenter top 10 grabs, Smith’s friends and acquaintances know what a Tigerhawk is.
And, no, a win Tuesday wouldn’t hurt Iowa’s brand marketing in Mississippi.
“Everyone in Mississippi is going to know who Iowa is if we win this game,” Smith said.
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