Mississippi St QB Fitzgerald suspended for season opener
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Joe Moorhead’s debut as Mississippi State’s head coach added some unexpected intrigue after he announced starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is suspended for Saturday’s game against Stephen F. Austin because of a “violation of team policy.”
Moorhead — who talked about the decision during Monday’s press conference — also said that defensive lineman Cory Thomas won’t play against the Lumberjacks.
“Certainly they understand that they’re going to have to deal with the consequences of their choice,” Moorhead said. “We’ll see those guys back on the field soon.”
Moorhead did not elaborate on the reason for Fitzgerald’s suspension, saying only that the violation occurred in March. He added that Fitzgerald will be the starter when the 18th-ranked Bulldogs play their second game on Sept. 8 against Kansas State and praised the quarterback’s behavior since last spring.
“He’s been elected team captain, he’s had an awesome spring ball, he’s had an awesome summer conditioning workout and an awesome preseason camp,” Moorhead said. “He’s been a great leader and great teammate.”
The suspension delays the return of Fitzgerald, a third-year starter who suffered a gruesome dislocated right ankle in last year’s Egg Bowl. Sophomore Keytaon Thompson will start in Fitzgerald’s absence.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Thompson has some experience, leading the Bulldogs to a win over Louisville in the TaxSlayer Bowl last season after taking over for Fitzgerald.
″(Thompson) is going to do an awesome job,” Moorhead said. “We have a next man in philosophy that when someone goes down, the person who replaces them is going to do as good or better of a job.”
Even without Fitzgerald, Mississippi State will be a huge favorite over Stephen F. Austin, which plays in the lower-level Football Championship Subdivision in the Southland Conference.
Moorhead said his team won’t take the Lumberjacks lightly and that these games can be dangerous. He played quarterback and was later the head coach at FCS-level Fordham for four years and during his coaching tenure his teams upset both Temple and Army.
“From an ex-FCS player and an ex-FCS head coach, this is certainly a game where guys from that level go into the game with a chip on their shoulder, with something to prove,” Moorhead said. “Generally, the game plan is to tee it high and let it fly. They’ll pull out all the stops.”
Even if Mississippi State wins on Saturday, Fitzgerald’s suspension will cost the team valuable game action with their starting quarterback as the Bulldogs try to adjust to a new offense. Now the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder will make his senior debut on the road against Kansas State, which figures to be a much more difficult game.
Mississippi State players did not speak with the media on Monday.
Fitzgerald has a 14-11 career record as the starting quarterback. He has 2,486 career yards rushing, which ranks 4th for a quarterback in Southeastern Conference history, and needs less than 500 more yards rushing this fall to grab the top spot from former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
Moorhead expects Fitzgerald will be ready on Sept. 8.
“He’s got the vote of the team because he was elected captain,” Moorhead said. “I think Nick is about the right things. He’s responded the right way. We’ll come back into (Kansas) State week and get the season rolling the way we all kind of hoped it would unfold.”
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