BREAKING: MSU's Fitzgerald suspended for first game

Nick Fitzgerald

SDN staff writer

Mississippi State begins its football season this weekend, but the biggest story might be the player who won’t be playing after head coach Joe Moorhead announced on Monday that starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is suspended and will miss Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. opener against Stephen F. Austin due to a violation of team rules.

According to Moorhead, Fitzgerald’s indiscretion occurred back in March, but MSU’s first-year coach declined to give any further specifics.

“Since (the violation occurred), he has been elected team captain,” Moorhead said of Fitzgerald. “He had an awesome spring ball, summer conditioning and preseason camp. He’s been a great leader and teammate. Fitzgerald will sit out this game and come back (next week) against Kansas State.”

Moorhead’s declaration came as a shock during his first game-week press conference as Mississippi State’s head coach. All preseason long, it has been assumed that Fitzgerald’s return to action after suffering a gruesome ankle injury in the final regular season game last year would come on Saturday. Now, the starting quarterback this weekend will instead be Keytaon Thompson. Thompson, a sophomore, will be making his second career start. He also started in place of the injured Fitzgerald in last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl.

“Keytaon Thompson will do an awesome job and we have a next-man-in philosophy,” Moorhead said. “When someone goes down, the person who replaces them will do as good of or better a job.”

Though there’s faith in Thompson, it’s undeniable that MSU would have loved to have gotten Fitzgerald game reps in Moorhead’s new offensive scheme in Saturday’s game. That now won’t be the case.

Moorhead said Fitzgerald has taken the suspension in stride.

“I think that’s one of the great things about Fitzgerald,” Moorhead said. “He understands and he has the vote of the team because he was elected captain. He knows how to respond to this the right way. We will come back Kansas State week and we will get the season rolling the way we planned.”

With Thompson starting, he will be backed up on Saturday by true freshman Jalen Mayden and sophomore walk-on Logan Burnett.

“Both of those guys have been splitting reps with the twos,” Moorhead said of Mayden and Burnett. “For a true freshman (like Mayden) to come in, who hasn’t been taking the reps with ones or twos, that’s a lot to ask of him. A package has kind of been reduced to maximize his strengths and minimize the experience aspect of it. Burnett has been with us and understands the system. I think, as a staff, we’ve historically done a good job at tailoring a game plan to fit our strengths. That’ll definitely be the case this week.”