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Winning ugly

Mississippi State survives 21 penalties for 17-7 win

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Friday December 31, 1999 12:39 AM

  Rod Gardner Clemson receiver Rod Gardner had the same fate as the rest of his team, coming up short against Mississippi State. AP

ATLANTA (AP) -- Sometimes Mississippi State's Wayne Madkin grows tired of the snide remarks and back-handed compliments.

The 15th-ranked Bulldogs have a good offense, too, and the sophomore quarterback, who directed a 17-7 victory over Clemson in the Peach Bowl on Thursday night, wants everyone to know it.

"The way we play on offense may not be pretty sometimes like people like it," he said. "But we play with a lot of heart. That's why we won 10 games."

And because of a defense, the best in the country, that picked off five Clemson passes and held the Tigers to three touchdowns less than their average.

The Bulldogs (10-2) had only gotten a 39-yard field goal by Scott Westerfield when Madkin bounced in for a 2-yard touchdown run with 11:40 to go.

And the defense, which held Clemson to its lowest point total this season, made it hold up the rest of the way with five interceptions and a fumble as Mississippi State finished with 10 victories for the second time in school history.

Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill said Madkin got the attack flowing after halftime.

"He played excellent," Sherrill said. "The thing he did the best was protect the football, not make mistakes."

That was left for Clemson. Coach Tommy Bowden tried every gimmick he had to jump-start the Tigers (6-6). He shuffled quarterbacks Brandon Streeter and Woody Dantzler. He used crazy formations. Down 3-0, he passed up a tying field goal on fourth-and-7 from the Bulldogs 13.

Nothing seemed to work as Mississippi State stopped every challenge, including Streeter's fourth-down pass that was knocked away by defensive lineman John Hilliard.

The Tigers' only offensive bright spot was a 70-yard drive, ended on Streeter's 1-yard touchdown run that cut the lead to 10-7 with 8:15 left.

"I said I wasn't going to go for any field goals. I went for one and I wished I didn't do that," Bowden said.

The Bulldogs' offense, suddenly fluid, answered with a touchdown drive as Madkin hit Dontae Walker with a 15-yard pass four minutes later to put the game away.

Madkin finished 17-of-38 for 176 yards.

Mississippi State's offense was in the middle of the Southeastern Conference this season -- it needed last-second field goals from Westfield to beat Kentucky and Ole Miss last month. But its defense was the nation's best, allowing only 222 yards and 13 points a game.

That showed strongly against the Tigers, who came in averaging more than four touchdowns a game. Clemson did manage 391 yards, just off its season average of 403, but the yards meant precious little on the scoreboard.

Robert Bean blocked Clemson's 26-yard field goal try, his fifth block this season. Barrin Simpson and Conner Stephens had consecutive sacks to end a Clemson drive at Mississippi State's 29. After the Tigers recovered a first-half fumble in Bulldogs territory, Ashley Cooper intercepted Dantzler's pass two plays later.

"You've got to do that against a good offense like Clemson's," Cooper said.

The pattern continued in the second half. Hilliard stuck his hand up on fourth down to kill what had been Clemson's best scoring chance. On the Tigers' next series, Dorsett Davis recovered a fumble by Clemson receiver Brian Wofford.

And with the Tigers trying one last drive in the final four minutes, Davis picked off another pass by Streeter that was tipped at the line.

"We have an outstanding defense," Sherrill said. "You can see why it's the best in the country."

"We kept knocking at the door," Clemson center Kyle Young said. "We just couldn't get it across."

It was Mississippi State's first postseason victory in five tries since the 1981 Hall of Fame bowl. It was also Sherrill's first bowl victory with the Bulldogs in five tries since arriving in 1991.

The scoreless first half was a Peach Bowl record -- even Vanderbilt managed a 3-0 lead over Texas Tech here in 1974 -- and nothing anyone in the bowl record crowd of 73,315 would have expected.

The teams punted 11 times. Mississippi State had five false-start penalties and only four first downs. Madkin was called for intentional grounding -- twice.

Clemson's flashy attack couldn't get much going either. Travis Zachery, the Tigers' leading rusher and scorer, dislocated his right elbow tackling Fred Smoot on an interception return a minute into the game.

The Tigers, who had won seven straight bowl games from 1986-93, have lost their last four postseason games.

 
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