MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Five Mississippi State football players, including one projected starter, were suspended for the team”s season opener Thursday night at the University of Memphis.
MSU team spokesperson Joe Galbraith confirmed less than two hours before kickoff at the Liberty Bowl that junior defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Blaine Clausell, sophomore linebacker Chris Hughes, redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan Favre, and redshirt freshman tight end Malcolm Johnson had been suspended for “various violations of team rules.”
MSU officials declined to elaborate on the specifics of the violations, and none of the players traveled Wednesday with the team.
Cox, a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection, was the only probable starter in the group, but team officials said all five players “will be available” to participate next Saturday when MSU opens SEC play at No. 23 Auburn University.
Before the 7 p.m., kickoff Cox tweeted two messages.
“Will perform at the highest level of college football next week,” Cox said. “I kno (sp) my boys gone go hard tonight that”s what we train
Devin Jones, a junior from Olive Branch, started in Cox”s place and had two tackles and a forced fumble in his first start.
“Fletcher called me before the game and I told him I wouldn”t let him down,” Jones said.
Clausell”s suspension ended the debate of who would start at left tackle and see a majority of snaps at the position. The move left senior James Carmon, a converted defensive lineman, as the only active member at that position who had worked with the first-team offense.
The suspension is the second suspension for Hughes, who was suspended for the 2010 home contest against Kentucky after he was cited for an illegal hit during a kickoff in a game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Johnson and Favre were redshirted after not seeing action last season. They were three-star recruits in the 2011 signing class.
The roller coaster ride of Jameon Lewis” debut
MSU coach Dan Mullen said freshman wide receiver Jameon Lewis had a lot of teachable moments in his debut.
The 5-foot-9 speedster on special teams caught a pair of punts inside the 5-yard line and then fumbled away another return attempt. Typically, players are taught to put their back heel on the 10-yard line and let anything over their head go in hopes it will go into the end zone for a touchback to the 20.
“He needs to learn how to become a good football player and not just an athlete as soon as he gets the ball in his hands,” Mullen said. “Be consistent, be productive, and field the ball when he supposed to.”
The Tylertown native, who was a three-star athlete out of high school two years ago, ended MSU”s 59-14 victory with a 80-yard reception from backup quarterback Tyler Russell. He exploded past three defenders into the end zone.
Lewis ended with a team-high 113 yards on four catches. He also had 10 return yards on four attempts.
“I”ve seen the big plays (and) I expect the big plays (from him),” Mullen said. “He”s an exciting player.”
Lots of new faces for MSU
MSU had 23 players make their debut in a maroon and white jersey.
Of those players, eight were on defense. Linemen P.J. Jones, Kaleb Eulls, and Curtis Virges, a former West Point High standout, received significant playing time.
“The biggest thing that allows you to win this league is depth, and (if) you”ve got that up front you can beat a lot of people,” MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.
Jones, a freshman defensive tackle, had four tackles and a fumble recovery. Virges, a former four-star prospect, had three tackles.
“He earned it,” Wilson said when asked why he let Jones play as a freshman in the opener. “He was one of the best in camp, and I was excited to watch guys like him tonight.”
Mullen said the defense used as many as 25 players, and said that was key to building depth at spots that had been identified as concerns entering the season.
“We had over 20 freshman play tonight, so when their number is called it”s not the first time they”ve stepped on the field,” Mullen said. “That doesn”t happen too often at this level.”