August 28, 2018 9:48:39 AM
STARKVILLE -- Joe Moorhead was a passive spectator on Dec. 30, watching the team he would officially take over in a matter of hours. He was in a luxury box at Jacksonville's EverBank Field watching Mississippi State beat Louisville in the TaxSlayer Bowl with Keytaon Thompson at quarterback.
At the time, Moorhead thought he was watching the promising backup who will eventually run the show for him. He didn't expect that to happen in his first game as a Bulldog.
Moorhead announced Monday starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald will be suspended for Saturday's game against Stephen F. Austin, paving the way for the second start of Thompson's career 6:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU). Fitzgerald's violation occurred in March, so MSU had plenty of time to prepare for this. Fitzgerald took the first-team reps through the spring and preseason, but when Stephen F. Austin-specific prep began Friday, Thompson was at the helm.
"Like any position, you're going to craft and tailor your game plan to the strengths of the guys that are going to be out on the field," Moorhead said. "In terms of the game plan, the structure of it and the application of it, there's not much change for what we ask Nick to do and what we'll ask KT to do."
Moorhead pointed out that since the transgression, Fitzgerald has been excellent through spring practice, summer conditioning and preseason practice to the point that his teammates still voted him a team captain. Moorhead declined to get into the specifics on the timeline of when the punishment was administered, but he did make one thing clear.
"We'll come back Kansas State week and we'll get the season rolling the way we all hoped it would unfold," Moorhead said.
Fitzgerald is not alone: offensive lineman Michael Story remains indefinitely suspended after his arrest on a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge and Moorhead said defensive lineman Cory Thomas is suspended for a violation of team rules.
Depth chart revelations
The wide receiver question that's been looming over MSU since January finally got some clarification.
MSU released its depth chart Monday with one solidified starting wide receiver and two spots with split duties. Hinds Community College transfer Stephen Guidry was named the starter at X, followed by junior Jamal Couch and freshman Devonta "Whop" Jason. Austin Williams and Deddrick Thomas will split the starting duties at H, the slot position, and Osirus Mitchell and Jesse Jackson will do the same at Z.
Mitchell took advantage of infrequent playing time to learn what he needed to do to make this push for playing time.
"Getting off the ball versus the press, that was my main priority. Really everything -- route running, footwork, everything -- but mainly getting off the press," Mitchell said. "(Offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Luke) Getsy teaches us release techniques every day and he came from the NFL. He's working with the best and he knows what it takes to get there."
He will split the duties with Jackson, who led last year's team with 27 catches for 276 yards.
Thomas showed promise in leading last year's team with four receiving touchdowns, catching 22 passes for 227 yards. Couch -- after 10 catches, 191 yards and two touchdowns last year -- will start the season behind Guidry, who entered MSU as the top junior college wide receiver in the nation in the 247 Sports Composite.
Baldwin gets scholarship
When MSU entered fall practice, it did so with 83 scholarship players, meaning it had two left to award before hitting the NCAA limit of 85. In the final week of preseason practice, it gave one to senior safety Stephen Adegoke.
As the team's attention turned from preseason practice to week one prep, it awarded the other to long snapper Joel Baldwin. The senior from Tupelo got the news after a little prank from Moorhead, who called him into his office to tell him there was an issue. So Moorhead called Baldwin's father to tell him the same thing: the issue was Baldwin's family had to find a way to spend $25,000, because Baldwin is now on scholarship.
"Those guys don't get a lot of publicity and fan fare and those guys do a great service to the team," Moorhead said.
Moorhead remembers FCS roots
Twice in his four years as Fordham's head coach, Moorhead was on what he calls, "the good side," of a FCS over FBS upset, as his Rams beat Army and Temple in his time there. With those memories fresh in his brain, he knows better than to look over Stephen F. Austin.
"There's definitely as aspect of this game where you have to keep your antennas up and be aware," Moorhead said. "For an ex-FCS player and an ex-FCS head coach, this is certainly a game where guys from that level go into that game with a chip in their shoulder with something to prove. Generally the game plan is to tee it high and let it fly, they're going pull out all the stops."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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