Mississippi State entered the Auburn game in 1998 with a 5-0 record, 2-0 in the SEC, and ranked 14th in the AP poll. Generally, that would gain praise and/or respect from the opposing coach. But not Tommy Tubberville.
The former Ole Miss coach publicly discounted State’s early schedule, despite MSU defeating three major conference opponents (OK State, South Carolina, & Vanderbilt), and said that the Auburn game was the start of the Bulldog’s season. As if Auburn was getting any national attention with a 3-2 record and home wins over Appalachian State and Idaho by a combined 14 points…
The first half on the Plains? Well let’s just say it was bad. Wayne Madkin completed just 8 of 20 passes and State was unable to get anything going on the ground. We were down 10-0 at halftime and Madkin had a torn tendon in his finger.
So in came the senior backup quarterback Matt Wyatt.
Things didn’t go well in the third quarter, and a Wyatt interception led to another Auburn field goal. State did manage to put points on the board, but entered the fourth quarter facing a 3-16 deficit.
Auburn’s gameplan in the fourth quarter was to run the ball, run the clock, and hang on. The Tiger rushing attack was embarrassing, amassing 39 yards on 42 carries, but they were successful in draining the clock, mostly thanks to State’s offensive ineptitude.
With 2:28 left, tight end CJ Sirmones found paydirt and State kicked deep to Auburn after cutting the lead to six. Again, Auburn couldn’t do anything offensively and settled for a voluntary safety to avoid having to punt from their own 5 yardline.
After the safety, Auburn punted with 50 seconds left, and Pig Prather promptly gave State great field position with a 41-yard punt return. Four plays later, Wyatt squeezed a pass through the tightest of holes and the ball somehow found its way into the arms of Matt Butler at the front of the endzone. His incredible reception gave State the 18-16 lead with 19 seconds left.
To end the game, Fred Smoot picked off Auburn’s Jeff Klein, who completed just 7 of 27 passes.
Afterwards, Sherrill took shots at Tuberville’s earlier comments. "[Tuberville] was right. But we’ve played somebody now, so I guess our season started today."
Auburn completed 25% of their passes, averaged LESS THAN one yard per rush, and only made nine first downs. Still, we had to score TWO touchdowns in the final 3 minutes to beat them. This was a great comeback and exciting finish, but seriously – a loss would’ve surely been embarrassing.
Auburn finished the season 5-6 (2-6 SEC), while State finished 10-2 (6-2 SEC) with a victory over Clemson in the Peach Bowl.