By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – The college debut of Jameon Lewis was never boring, although some of the excitement Mississippi State’s coaches could have done without.
Lewis made them smile when he scored on a 19-yard run and an 80-yard reception in Thursday’s 59-14 win at Memphis. Those plays affirmed what coaches knew about Lewis’ playmaking ability.
Offensive coordinator Les Koenning called him “electric” and “exciting.”
Lewis also made Koenning and his fellow coaches cringe when he unwisely fielded a kickoff at his own 2-yard line and stepped out of bounds, and then fielded a punt at his own 5 and lost 3 yards on the return, and then later fumbled away a punt return to Memphis.
“I see his role decreasing unless he improves in practice in taking care of the football (on special teams) and doing things the right way,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “There’s a lot more to the game than catching the pass and breaking a couple of tackles and running to score.”
Oh, but the thrill of watching Lewis on offense almost offsets his special teams miscues.
On his 19-yard score, Lewis raced to the edge and somehow kept his feet inbounds as he lunged inside the right pylon. On the 80-yarder, he bounced off a defender at his own 38 and simply outran the defense down the left sideline.
Lewis, a 5-foot-9, 185-pounder out of Tylertown, had mixed feelings about his performance.
“I was kind of happy because coming into the game I said I at least want two touchdowns. That’s just me; I set a goal for a game,” Lewis said. “I was kind of happy I did that, but at the same time I was kind of mad because on special teams it didn’t really go right like I wanted.”
The blemishes in his game can be polished up by coaching and experience. What will remain, and what the coaches are trying to develop, is that raw playmaking ability, the kind Mullen covets for his spread offense.
There was a lot of preseason chatter about Lewis and the role he could play, and his performance at Memphis – four catches for 113 yards, two rushes for 29 yards – indicates he’s up to the challenge of playing in the SEC. Of course, he hasn’t actually played an SEC team yet, but that chance will come Saturday when No. 16 MSU visits Auburn.
“You’ve had your first ballgame, we’re still early in the season, and having this conversation later on could be different,” Koenning said. “I’m very pleased in what he’s done, and (he) just needs to keep improving. Sometimes with Jameon, he’ll look at you sometimes and you don’t know if he’s really got it or not. But he’s a freshman, redshirt freshman, what do you expect?”
For Lewis, he expects great things. Mullen said he’ll be “a great weapon in the future once he gets himself to understand how to play every single down. It’s probably real similar to what Chad Bumphis was a couple years ago.”
Bumphis, a junior, has been a receiver and punt returner since his freshman year. Lewis said he wants to be better than Bumphis someday.
“It ain’t nothing against him,” Lewis said, “but I just want to be better than everybody, whoever anybody compares me to.”
It’s that sort of attitude that allowed Lewis to bounce back from his miscues and make huge plays last week. The 80-yard TD came right after Memphis scored a touchdown, which resulted from Lewis’ muffed punt.
“Most kids would have been in the tank or something like that,” Koenning said. “He got out there and made a big play. I was very pleased for him to do that. I think that boosted his confidence, and he wanted to prove to somebody he could do it.”