Dec. 29, 1999
By PETE IACOBELLI AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) – No matter what happens at the Peach Bowl, Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill thinks Clemson’s Tommy Bowden has a powerhouse brewing at Death Valley the next few seasons.
“My advice to Tommy,” Sherrill said Wednesday, “is to put a plaque up there that says, ‘Home forever.’ “
“That’s all right with me,” Bowden joked. “Should I put it up with screws or one that slides in?”
The 15th-ranked Bulldogs (9-2) face Clemson (6-5) Thursday night at the Georgia Dome. The Tigers are back in a bowl for the first time in three seasons after last year’s 3-8 record brought in Bowden to replace ex-coach Tommy West.
Just look at Bowden’s burst this year, Sherrill said. He changed the team’s offensive focus, overcame six defensive starters getting drafted and finished tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I think I’m going to take him recruiting with me,” Bowden said, laughing.
Bowden doesn’t worry about what might happen if the Tigers lose to Mississippi State. “If this was my fourth or fifth season, I might be a little more concerned,” he said.
But he thinks he already has exceeded expectations by getting to the Georgia Dome.
Sherrill faced a similar task only a few seasons ago. The Bulldogs were 3-8 in 1995 and there were rumblings the game had passed Sherrill by.
Three seasons later, Mississippi State won the Southeastern Conference’s West Division and started 8-0 this year until losing consecutive games to Alabama and Arkansas this past month.
Win or lose Thursday night, Sherrill says his program will build on momentum started long ago. Sherrill said that at a team meeting Tuesday night, his younger Bulldogs thanked the upperclassmen who are leaving – but then told them to get out.
“They know they’ll have the chance to compete for starting spots and do what they saw those other people doing here,” he said.
Sherrill is 0-4 in the postseason since becoming Mississippi State coach in 1991. He took ranked teams into the Peach Bowl in 1992 and 1994.
Clemson has lost its past three bowl appearances, including at the Peach Bowl to LSU in 1996 and to Auburn a year later. Bowden led Tulane to an undefeated season and the Liberty Bowl in 1998, but wasn’t around to enjoy it. He took the Clemson job a month before the Green Wave defeated Brigham Young.
So Bowden has been crisp and eager in Atlanta, soaking in the moments and rushing between interviews. Sherrill acted like the veteran coaching his 13th bowl game, even answering for Bowden during their joint appearance on several topics, such as whether a national Division I-A playoff would ever supplant the bowl system.
“I know Tommy has to be more careful about how he answers some things,” Sherrill said.
Bowden says his fast-paced offense will face one of its most difficult tests with the Bulldogs. Mississippi State, led by safety Ashley Cooper and defensive end Cornell Menafee, topped the SEC in scoring defense, passing defense and rushing defense.
“They never give up too may long passes or long runs,” Bowden said. “That’s going to be tough for us to deal with.”
The Tigers made their living this season piling up yards and points, averaging 403.6 yards and 28.6 points a game. Bowden said record-setting senior Brandon Streeter would start at quarterback over record-setting sophomore Woody Dantzler.
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