October 27, 2010 9:38:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University freshman linebacker Chris Hughes will miss the team''s game against the University of Kentucky at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) after a league suspension for an unnecessary hit in its win against the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The Southeastern Conference, which reviewed game film before determining the suspension, said its decision to suspend Hughes "was the result of a flagrant, unsportsmanlike act" against wideout Frantrell Forrest. The SEC said the penalty took place at the 26-second mark of the second quarter Saturday. Video shows Hughes hitting a player while the action was on the other side of the field.
An SEC spokesman said the suspension is in accordance with league bylaws, adding Hughes violated Rule 9-1-4 of the NCAA rulebook, which states, "No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow, or shoulder."
The SEC didn''t specify if Hughes'' hit was helmet-to-helmet -- a NFL hot-button issue -- or if he used another part of his body to deliver the high hit. The hit, at least from one camera angle posted on the Internet, was high and against a defenseless opponent.
Hughes admitted the illegal hit in a school-released statement Tuesday morning.
"It was a silly mistake, and one I should not have made," Hughes said. "Now I have to pay the price for my actions. Our coaches teach us and warn us about those types of plays, and I just need to learn from this and make sure it doesn''t happen in the future."
MSU coach Dan Mullen also released a statement, stressing the team''s efforts to teach their athletes to play safer.
"We coach our players on these situations -- how to lead with your shoulder, make sure you wrap up, and see the front of the jersey -- not only to avoid pointless penalties, but to make sure everyone is safe on the field," the statement read. "This is a teachable moment for Chris and our team. He''ll face the consequences for his actions and learn from it."
Hughes, who is from Mobile, Ala., has played primarily on special teams for No. 23 MSU (6-2, 2-2 SEC), which will play host to Kentucky (4-4, 1-4) on Saturday at David Wade Stadium. Hughes has played in seven games and has five tackles, including one for a loss this season.
"It hurts us more on special teams. He plays a lot of snaps on special teams for us," Mullen said later after practice. "He''s rotating with (Chris) Gatling and Cameron Lawrence out there (at linebacker). Those guys will be able to fill in for him."
Hughes is the third SEC player to be suspended for an illegal hit this season, following South Carolina''s Rodney Paulk and Georgia''s Ben Jones, who sat half a game for illegally clipping MSU''s Fletcher Cox on Sept. 25.
Paulk missed the first half of the Gamecocks'' win at Vanderbilt because of a helmet-to-helmet hit on Kentucky''s Randall Cobb.
"As part of our weekly review of all game tape for officiating purposes, which includes coaches video, the play in question was evident," the SEC said of Hughes'' hit.
Mullen urges students to save the bell
A day after news broke about MSU''s impending fines from violations of the amended artificial newsmaker policy, Mullen stressed the importance of college football traditions.
The fate of the cowbell being allowed inside Davis Wade Stadium hinges on MSU fans ringing with discretion in the team''s last two SEC games.
"It''s voted as one of the top traditions in college football," Mullen said, "so we''ve got to do a good job of keeping within the conference rules they''ve set up so we can keep one of college football''s great traditions.
"Dotting the ''I'' at Ohio State and all the different things you have that make college football special -- the cowbell''s one of them."
When asked about his message to fans regarding the use of cowbells, Mullen said, "Just be smart."
"Every conference has their own rules," he said.
Mullen later spoke to students at Newell-Grissom Gymnasium and said the strength of their continued presence on game day has a big effect on the team.
"Cowbells are important," Mullen said. "But ringing a cowbell has nothing to with us winning a football game."
Ailing Bulldogs regaining fitness
Injury concerns about center J.C. Brignone and running back Vick Ballard appear behind the club.
Mullen said both players "ran with the ones" and "looked good" Tuesday in practice.
Brignone, who played the second half against UAB, has battled a sprained knee. Ballard rested an ankle and didn''t play Saturday.
Seeing both players go through a Tuesday practice -- considered the most difficult day of preparation -- was important to Mullen.
"Tuesday''s always a tough, physical day for us," Mullen said. "(We) did a lot of the run and play-action stuff, so it was a good day."