April 23, 2012 2:50:38 AM
STARKVILLE - While the concept of difference maker is thrown around is thrown around loosely in big-time college football, two Mississippi State University receivers may have lived up to the billing Saturday.
Sophomore athlete Jameon Lewis and freshman wide receiver Joe Morrow made a instant impact on MSU's passing game during the annual Maroon-White spring game which was drastically lacking from the Bulldogs 2011 offense.
In a short-term view of Saturday's action, the duo were a major factor to the Maroon team coming away with a 33-22 victory in what everybody on the roster and coaching staff acknowledged was a glorified scrimmage for the announced crowd of 22,604 on a converted 60-yard football field.
"We had a lot of young guys that have not been in this particular situation and it was important to play them today," MSU football coach Dan Mullen said.
The field dimensions were due to concert for the band Sugarland after the spring game was over in a marketing attempt for the MSU athletic department as they pre-sold tickets for the combination of both events for the first time in school history.
"It was a different playing on that short field but once we get in our stadium we feel like we're in the gladiator arena no matter the situation so it was good to get a good show for the fans," MSU senior linebacker Cam Lawrence said.
Lewis, who was seen at wide receiver and wildcat quarterback Saturday evening, finished the action with a game-high 144 yards receiving on 10 catches along with having 20 yards on seven carries.
"He was one of the older guys that stepped up when we needed him to tonight," Mullen said. "He was getting open and making big plays but that's what you expect out of him."
The 5-foot-9 speedster from Tylertown has been noticeably more effective in picking up the MSU offensive concepts and translating them into major production in game-like situations this spring.
"I still don't know my exact role yet but that's a great thing because they're trying to use him in a bunch of different ways," Lewis said. "That's the exciting thing is I'm learning every day and becoming a more complete player with everything I pick up this spring."
Lewis has admitted throughout the spring season he was overwhelmed with the playbook and the offensive terminology to the point that MSU coaches were afraid to give him too much responsibility last season.
"Thee were times that the plays were so long that I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to pay attention to," Lewis joked. "Whenever and however I get the ball this year, my goal is to make sure that play scores points somehow."
Morrow, who has quickly been one of the favorite targets of MSU starting quarterback Tyler Russell all spring, showcased his big-play ability on a 17-yard catch pitch-and-catch fade pass by the two players in the second quarter.
"He's a guy you have to reckon with and we give Tyler some time this fall you better watch out because he'll break one on you like that," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "Jameon Lewis and Joe Morrow have pushed people for starting jobs and I can say that definitively now the spring is over."
In his first game in Davis Wade Stadium, Morrow ended the evening with 97 yards receiving on six catches and the one score. It was a breakthrough performance for the freshman after suffering two dropped passes earlier in the game.
"I thought he did some good things but obviously still has some things he needs to clean up," Mullen said. "He has to be more consistent but if he gets the drops out of his system then he's good to go."
In the first time in the spring football game, Russell left Davis Wade Stadium without throwing an interception. A drastic difference from throwing one in his first pass two years ago and being booed off the field.
"My offense had a pretty good day and that was so key to everybody's confidence out there especially the young guys," Russell said. "I've been there and done everything so no matter who was out there we moved the football and made plays time and time again."
The junior quarterback, who is the clear starter at the position coming out of the spring, completed 24-of-43 for 312 yards and two touchdown passes. Most of Russell's throws were intermediate routes as Koenning and the rest of the offensive staff have tried to get the former Parade All-America selection to stop trying to throw the deep pass too often.
"When we recruited him we knew he could throw the football but what I've been excited about is that he's understanding protections and where he's strong," Koenning said. "He knows where to dump it off and check it down. He did that extremely well today."
The MSU team will not be seen on the field again on the playing surface until fall camp begins in August.
Freshman DT Quay Evans dominates in spring game
For most of the spring season, Mississippi State defensive tackle Quay Evans had been in the learning stage of his college career.
The highly recruited defensive player from Morton High School is supposed to be deciding what he'll be wearing at the prom by now but his decision to graduate early and be eligible for spring workouts paid off Saturday in the annual Maroon-White spring game at Davis Wade Stadium.
In his first game on MSU's home field in front of 22, 604, the four-star recruit had a pair of sacks in the first half and was
disruptive early and often throughout the game from his inside position.
"I'm positive that Morton High School doesn't have crowds like this so for him to go some good things under this pressure is nice to see," MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
Since the 300-pound defensive tackle had little concept of the Bulldogs defensive scheme, Evans had been relegated to the second and third-string rotations for much of the spring season. However this week saw Evans being used in first-team reps especially in goal-line situations and the practice work was showcased in his six tackles including three for losses.
"Hopefully some of the young guys like Quay and (former East Mississippi Community College product) Denico Autry can get the
jitters out of the way now so on the season opener against Jackson State they're ready to roll," Mullen said.
Evans will be battling this fall for time beside senior defensive tackle Josh Boyd as MSU loses All-Southern Conference selection
Fletcher Cox as an early entrant to the 2012 National Football League Draft.
Johnthan Banks shines on offense in spring game
For three years Johnthan Banks has been pestering Mullen and the MSU offensive staff to let him relive his days at East Webster High School in Maben by playing offense.
Saturday was his opportunity.
"I asked (Mullen) right before the game today and to be honest I was just messing with him but once he told me I was in, it was exciting no doubt," Banks said. "I've said it before that if Coach Mullen wants me to play cornerback, running back or receiver - I'll do it. I'll be the water boy on this team because I love every guy in that locker room."
The senior, who is a projected All-SEC preseason selection at cornerback, made a 17-yard catch late in the scrimmage and had another reception opportunity if not for a pass interference call on the play.
"He's so dynamic with the football in his hands that I have no problem with him wanting to play offense because real players don't ever want to come off the field," Wilson said. "The great thing is people think him jumping in on offense is selfish. It's not. It's him knowing he can help us there possibly and using his ability for the team."
Mullen said after the game he would consider using Banks, who is already on the punt return team as well, in some offensive packages now that he's proven his experience at the cornerback position.
"He's such a great athlete that now he's so solid and confident at cornerback that it's a natural tendency to want to take some reps away to play him on offense," Mullen said. "It's a long season but he has the size and jumping ability to create mismatches and so it's something we'll look at no question."
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