Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Reprint of Feature Interview with Sparky Woods and Wayne Madkin About Epic Dog Drive

The tragic death this week of former Bulldog C.J. Sirmones has every Bulldog fan of the era recalling the tight end’s finest moment with Mississippi State and on Scott Field. It is of course his touchdown to tie the 1999 Egg Bowl, a game that ended on an even more remarkable play only made possible because Sirmones turned a Wayne Madkin pass into arguably the biggest Bulldog score of the 90s.

To be sure, the fluke deflection/interception/return by Robert Bean and Eugene Clinton deserves its place in MSU memory. As does the winning field goal by Scott Westerfield at 0:04. It wouldn’t have happened had not Sirmones crashed the goal line at 0:27 for a 20-20 deadlock, after State trailed 20-6 in the fourth quarter.

After that epic victory, I set up a film session interview with both Madkin and offensive coordinator Sparky Woods just to go over that tying drive. It was one of the highlights of my dubious career, as coach and quarterback rolled the video and laser-pointed out things they saw during the game and things they missed at the time too. I asked them to take me through the thinking of every call, then every adjustment and the actual play.

I liked the result so much that the printing plate of the two-page spread in the December 11, 1999 issue was cut out for framing. I still have it, too.

So to honor C.J. Sirmones and remember the good times for his team, here is a reprint of that feature. Remember, we are watching on the screen as the tape recorder rolls, hence the (parenthetical notes about sides and spots and such) to hopefully help you ‘see’ it all too. The 4,000-word length reminds how much text was needed to fill two pages in the old Dawgs’ Bite magazine.

Oh, and what is now mostly forgotten; State had stopped the ball and forced a punt at 3:09, only to have Pig Prather fumble it away and let the Rebels run off most of another minute and use two Dog timeouts.

Murray: Setting the scene first, coach; as a coordinator what were you trying to do while the defense was still on the field stopping that long Ole Miss drive?

Woods: I knew we had to score a touchdown to go into overtime, and we decided that we would kick the extra point if we scored…

Murray: You mean even before the drive began the decision to kick for a tie was made?

Woods: Yeah, we knew that was the way to go. And we’d discussed it during the week. Then we were talking about overtime, that we were going to play defense first and which end of the field we would want, that kind of stuff.

We were thinking about the time and how to get that far down the field in the time we had. In the Auburn game we had less time, so we into a trips-set and hit Terrell Grindle underneath because we had to make a huge chunk of yardage at one time. Here, we didn’t think we had to do that, we thought we could make first downs and have Wayne stop the clock and all that. We did use two timeouts on defense and had one left, and it wasn’t as if we had to use it for a field goal. So we were going to use it to try to score a touchdown.

Then we dropped the punt, which made it a little more difficult. But, we went into our two-minute offense which consists of probably twelve plays.

What I thought about while I was calling the drive was how to get the ball down the field far enough and how to protect. Wayne knows this from out plan on offense, that incompletions stop the clock, sacks stop the drive. We couldn’t take a sack, and I reminded Wayne not worry about incomplete pass, whatever he did not take sack.

We started out just running vertical passes down the field and Wayne started hitting them, and I was thinking what can I do not to get sacked. They blitzed a couple of times, and they were running a zone-blitz where they rushed and outside linebacker and dropped an end. That tied into our vertical package pretty good, it allowed us to run down the field deeper than the linebacker was going to be able to cover.

Murray: Wayne, while the offense was waiting to get the ball, what were you doing?

Madkin: Coach Woods was telling us we would go ‘rally’, our two-minute offense. I was getting my mind focused, and I remember going to Wes Shivers and telling him that they would probably come at us a couple of times, then drop off, so just make sure you hold on to your blocks.

Murray: And the line had been giving you good protection all night.

Madkin: Yeah, they were, the whole game. So the biggest think I was trying to do was stay focused and keep my mind right. And I was trying to get them thinking that OK, he’s thinking, he’s confident. We went out and ran the plays and were throwing and catching.

PLAY #1: Drive starts at 2:10, 1st-and-10 at MSU12. Madkin looks left and finds Kelvin Love down the hashmarks for 15 yards to the MSU27.

Woods: We’re in the shotgun so Wayne is already back, he has a better chance in preparation. And it wasn’t any question that we were going to throw the ball, so we didn’t mind doing that. We called a four-vertical pass and we have a six-man protection. The play is designed because they’re in a two-deep secondary with two safeties (on both hashmarks). That tells us we’re going to work down to the running back if he gets out.

This is the zone blitz, and because they brought this outside linebacker, this end is going to have a hard time getting from there all the way back. Now if you’re running crossing routes that guy can be a problem there, so we went vertical. And they blitzed on first down, which is pretty aggressive on their part. And Wayne hit him for 15 yards and Kelvin did a nice job setting down where he was supposed to.

The biggest thing I was pleased with was watching Wayne set the protection, he is making sure everybody knows who they have to be on, who is ‘hot’. And in this particular case Justin Griffith has both the linebackers (middle and right-outside). Wayne has to adjust to the pay and throw the quick pass.

Murray: Wayne, you saw that the middle linebacker was not coming, just the right side guy?

Madkin: Right. During the game Coach Woods told me they were going to a zone blitz with the mike linebacker on the center. So I had a pretty nice pre-snap read on him, when I saw him lined up I said they were in the zone-blitz. It’s what Coach Woods saw and we went over at halftime, and they came back with that same look, so I kind of knew.

Murray: And the blitzer came from the right end, when you were already looking to throw to the left side.

Madkin: We went over that at halftime and we had the adjustments for is. And I felt good because it should be protected, and as you can see we penned it up pretty well.

PLAY #2; 1st-and-10 at the MSU27. Madkin hits a quick throw to Larry Huntington at the MSU33, but the UM left end is offsides at 1:46.

Woods: Right here I changed the protection so they didn’t get a bead on us. We didn’t want to run the same protection all the time. They ended up jumping offsides, but we did a nice job of finishing the play. Because they did bring the linebacker again here Wayne hit the crossing route, which is where he was supposed to go. We did pick up six yards, but of course we decided to take the penalty to gain the extra down.

Murray: Did you see the end jump off-sides?

Madkin: I kind of felt it! The biggest thing I was worried about was catching the snap.

PLAY #3: 1st-and-5 at the UM32. The pass is a bullet to Matt Butler as he stops at the 40, left hashmark, and goes off his hands at 1:32.

Woods: We come back and change the protection again, we went back to a five-out protection. At this point thanks to the 20 yards we’d gained in those two plays, using very little time, it allowed us to not be so downfield in our attack. If the first play had been incomplete it would have been a much more desperate situation, but the first play being successful was the key. This play was an incomplete pass, which stops the clock.

Murray: Coach Sherrill said Ole Miss played a lot of zone and zone-blitz, was that what you expected?

Madkin: Pretty much, because when you spread the field out with four-wides it kind of balances things out, especially with one back balancing the mike linebacker. So defensive coordinators, they want to come at you sometimes but not give up the big play. They came at us but they also played back sometimes.

Murray: Under the time pressures you faced what was the ideal way to attack a zone?

Woods: Getting more receivers out helps, it gives you more options and places to go. They were using the time, and the play where we got the penalty gave us another down, made it second down instead of third down.

Matt had a chance to make a catch here and should have made this catch, but he really gets hit and separates his shoulder right there, a second-degree separation. And he stays in the game and makes the key catch.

Murray: Did you know Matt was hurt?

Woods: I guess in the huddle y’all knew.

Madkin: No, I didn’t know. He didn’t say anything, he’s a pretty tough guy.

PLAY #4: 2nd-and-5 at the MSU32. Butler, split wide-right, stops for the catch and spins forward to the 45 at 1:24.

Woods: Now it’s 2nd-and-five which is not bad, and we’re able to huddle up. Now we’re able to call any play we really want to from our repertoire.

Murray: You split two wideouts right, one left, and leave the tight end in this time.

Woods: Yeah, which was giving a little bit of a different formation. What we did was flood the zone over here by bringing the tight end to this side. We’d worked on the left side, now we’re working back to the right side of the field. He throws the ball and Matt makes a great catch, and finishes with an extra three or four yards.

Again, Wayne has to read this, he has the option of about four guys. He reads it out and throws correctly, and the umpire gets in the tight end’s way here! We really don’t have a 1-2-3, we have a 1-or-1 according to what we see. And Wayne saw it. The most important part is Wayne has to set his protection. They’re giving a completely different look, they’ve gone to a three-down line trying to confuse us with the possibility of four different linebackers coming. His read had to come off two different linebackers coming, which he did see and he stayed with the protection and got a good catch for the first down.

Madkin: The biggest thing was the cushion between Matt and the cornerback. Every quarterback has a pre-snap read, but you have to confirm what you see. Once I got the ball my mind was Matt had a good pre-snap, look at the cushion here. I said well he has a good percentage of a good area to catch the ball. Right now they’ve got possibly seven guys coming at you and things can change quick. Later, on the touchdown, #24 (Ken Lucas) came up one time, but this time he didn’t.

Woods: That’s important what he just said. First of all Wes Shivers did a nice nob because they did rush this outside linebacker, and that was Wes’ guy. We saw a different defense, and Wayne points out that we catch the ball right in front of this (rightside) cornerback right here. We think this might have an effect on what that corner does later.

Murray: It looks like he and the safety were more worried about Love, the flanker inside of Butler.

Woods: They’re playing quarters of the field, but they kind of played man in that area. Obviously he was off the receiver too far because if Matt would have made him miss he would have gone a long way.

PLAY #5: 1st-and-10 at the MSU45. Love comes off the line hard, stops hard at the UM45 for the catch at 1:07.

Woods: Now we’re back on the ball, but we can’t huddle. It’s first down and according to the rules they have to stop the click just long enough to move the chains. So we had to go at the line of scrimmage.

Madkin: And usually when you go on the ball the defense is like ‘well, what do we do?’ And the first thing is they usually zone. So if we catch them off guard like that they kind of go to a basic front.

Woods: They don’t have much time to make changes or substitute as well. They’ve just blitzed us twice out of three times here, though they only rushed four the last time but brought a linebacker.

It’s first down and to be honest I feel Wayne’s not going to take a sack, that he’ll throw the ball away. And I don’t mind wasting a down that stops the clock. So we go ahead and run a vertical package again, similar to the first play except in a different formation.

Murray: They only rush four guys, and one of them is a delay.

Woods: They did change the coverage. See how the pre-snap look Wayne is talking about kind of gives you that four-across look? But when the ball is snapped they changed to a three-deep look. And that does change things. But Kelvin does a nice job picking out an open hole and Wayne does a nice job throwing the ball. Wayne is setting his protection again and actually changing every lineman’s blocking responsibility. He’s change who he is ‘hot’ off of right there.

Madkin: A linebacker (#1, Eddie Strong) is out of the box (to his right end) so he’s not a threat, that makes it better. So I said don’t worry about him, y’all just take care of everybody else.

Woods: We have a call that keeps the linemen from coming out to block that linebacker, it allows them to stay in and give an extra guy to help. The outside guy didn’t come and he completed that one. They’re trying to just bull-rush those four and get under-coverage. Remember how earlier they were dropping the ends? Now they’re getting those linebackers deeper.

PLAY #6: 1st-and-10 at UM45. Madkin is flushed left, finds Love tight-roped on the left sideline at the UM38 for seven yards at 0:46.

Woods: We came with another vertical pass but we did run a little change outside where we cross these two guys.

Madkin: Like Coach Woods always says, the game changes. Now it’s making the right decisions and hitting your guy; we’ve got five receivers and they’ve got six or seven defenders.

Murray: And here their right tackle (Tyler Williams) breaks through to force you to roll to your left.

Woods: This is not the play, this Wayne and his ability to escape outside and make the throw out there for the first down.

Madkin: The linebacker is here, that lets you know that it’s four guys in here. All I was thinking was I had four down-linemen trying to rush and we’ve got one extra guy, so I’m well protected.

Woods: This is one of the tougher situations. Everything indicates we’ve got more blockers than they’ve got rushers, all of a sudden that guy shows up. And Wayne uses his creativity to get outside and make a throw to a good football player. I think this is a great throw, he puts it where only our guy has a chance to throw. It also is a great catch by Kelvin by keeping his feet in bounds. Had that play not been completed it would not have been the worst thing in the world, certainly he didn’t throw the ball where #3 (Timothy Strickland) could catch it.

Madkin: Kelvin is an outstanding player. You think about it, he’s only been playing the position two years. I think his being a quarterback in the past, knowing what the quarterback is thinking, that helps him also.

Murray: You’re a right handed passer scrambling hard to your left and you’ve still got a lot of zip on the pass.

Madkin: Yeah, there was a lot of adrenalin pumping, too!

PLAY #7: 2nd-and-3 at the UM38. Madkin double-pumps before hurling a deep throw for Butler as he runs down the left sideline. It is out of bounds at 0:38.

Woods: We got the ball out of bounds so it’s 2nd-down-and-three, we huddle again and I want to change the formation. Ole Miss has done a nice job, they’ve played four-down line and zone-blitzes, a four-man line and coverage, a three-man line and blitzes. They’ve gone cover-four, cover-three, three-deep, back to four-deep; now it’s a man-to-man. So they’re trying, no doubt about it.

So we went trips now, we’ve changed the formation to put the tight end over here with the two wideouts (the right side) because we could get in the huddle and do something. Now this ended up being an incomplete pass. During the ball game I thought Wayne would have been better working down here (in the right flat), although Wayne’s reasoning to go up here (left side) was sound. What happens is Matt kind of chose the wrong adjustment on this route; he should have sat down right here (near the UM30, left side) and that’s what Wayne was anticipating.

Wayne gave him a chance throwing the ball down the field where Matt was going after it. This play made me more nervous than any on the drive.

Madkin: I was anticipating the sit-down. So then the thing was, I was trying to throw it past the guy where Matt could run under it and catch it.

Murray: It looks like you could have run for a first down to the left sideline. Coach, do you ever want your quarterbacks running in this situation?

Woods: Not much, because the time goes pretty quickly when you’re running. If he does make it we’ve got to get him back up off the ground and get everybody back. And I’m not sure he could have run, because the linebacker was doing a pretty good job spying on him. Now what I did like was Wayne showed great fundamentals here, he kept his passing posture all the time, he kept both hands on the ball and made the decision late to give the guy a chance to go get the ball. So it was a pretty good calculated risk on his part, at the same time it was the worst play of the drive and it ended up not hurting us.

PLAY #8: 3rd-and-3 at the UM38. Madkin looks right, then left, then is flushed back to the right. On the run he throws to C.J. Sirmones at the 15, who turns and runs and gets to the goal line as he is hit by two Rebels at 0:27.

Woods: Now it’s 3rd-and-3, so we have two problems. Here. We’ve got two downs and 38 seconds, so we’ve got to get the first down. This is a different play than we had run, it’s part of our hurry-up offense but what we’re doing is running two receivers to sit-down on the outside, and these guys run a corner route behind them, and put the fullback down the middle if he doesn’t have to block.

Madkin: And remember what I said earlier about #24? In my mind I was thinking the same way the coaches were, it’s third down, get the first down, get it to the hitch-guys where they can get out of bounds. Before I got the ball that was my thinking, but once the ball is snapped you have to confirm what is going on. And #24 did a good job of coming up, he took my initial target (far-right wideout Huntington near the 30).

Woods: Remember how Matt caught the ball in front of him? Now he’s really jumping on this, see? Which creates this open hole back behind him. And Wayne does a nice job coming out with a scramble.

Madkin: I knew C.J. had the corner route, so I knew I had a tight end in my slot. But I looked left to the other hitch-guy. I could have gotten it in there, I don’t know why I didn’t throw it but I didn’t feel it. Somebody on the line could have got a hand on it, the linebacker right there (dropping to the left) was reading my eyes. And I didn’t have a clear view of the hitch-guy.

Murray: By now the rush is coming around the left end, so you roll back to the right side.

Madkin: I tell you what, the unsung hero in all this is Justin Griffith, because he occupied that free safety back there to get C.J. open.

Woods: I think that’s a real good point. I thought we had a bad play. I didn’t think we were going to lose on it, but I was really worried he might get sacked right there. I was nervous about that. Then Wayne came out and made the play. It wasn’t about coaching, he made the play.

Madkin: When I started rolling, C.J. hadn’t made his cut yet to the route, so I had to wait for him to maek that cut and confirm that he was legitimate open. Once I saw that it was open I was like ‘oh, here we go!’ To be honest I thought he was about to get stopped on the two-yard line, so was saying go-go-go, get in. Then the referee put his hands up.

The PAT ties the game 20-20. While the offense plans for overtime, the Rebels plot a long pass to get into last-second field goal range. Romaro Miller’s throw is intercepted, returned to the UM26, and Scott Westerfield kicks the winning field goal at 0:04.

Murray: You grow up watching the movies, reading the books about the quarterback leading the last-second comeback. Yet to actually do it four times, you and Matt Wyatt, how rewarding is that?

Madkin: It’s nice and everything, but it has more appeal to you guys! The big thing is to win…I think everybody was keeping an even keel and doing our job.

We’ve had four games like that. Matt had that Auburn and Kentucky game, my contribution was the LSU and Ole Miss game. But it’s the whole team’s contribution. It just shows the character of this team and the players playing it to come back like that.

A win’s a win. It’s the same thing as blowing everybody out by 30 points, I think you get the same happiness and affirmation. But the ability to come back in a variety of games gives you a tremendous amount of confidence knowing you can come back at any time.

Murray: Coach, how much a boost to your confidence was the knowledge that this offense had succeeded in the two-minute offense before?

Woods: Two-minute offense is the easiest time to call plays, because you have a small number to call. I just try to mix up protections and realize how much downfield compared to how much time we’ve got.

We’ve done it pretty well so that helped. And I do think you limit how much defense you get. But we ran seven different plays, it’s something we practice. I think Wayne likes it, he likes to be back there all the time.

Everybody makes plays. That’s the key thing. I think it goes back to Coach Sherrill’s attitude of ‘don’t every give up’. Our team thinks they can win no matter what. And they turn around and intercept a pass and kick a field goal before we ever go into overtime. It’s just a team mindset, they were determined to win and knew they could. Coaching was just giving them the plays. They had to execute them, I didn’t make a throw!

Murray: Have you ever been part of a team that won this many comeback games?

Woods: No, I’ve never been in this many as a team. Not even in all the pro games that went down to the last few minutes. We had a bunch of them this year. Too many!

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