Starkville native steps up in game against No. 1 Alabama

There have only been two interceptions thrown by the University of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, a sophomore quarterback from Ewa Beach, Hawaii. One found the hands of Mississippi State University's Willie Gay Jr., a sophomore linebacker from Starkville.

Gay described one of the many big plays he made in the loss to to Alabama.

“I showed like I was blitzing, and then I dropped off in coverage,” Gay said. “He threw it right to me, and I caught it. I was actually kind of surprised, I did not know what to do with it. When I caught it I was like, ‘Yeah, he gave me a second one.’”

Gay had to fill in for his fellow defensive teammate and linebacker Leo Lewis, a senior from Brookhaven, because Lewis was sick this week. He had a bit more time to prepare for the game as he found out Lewis was not going to play toward the middle of the week.

“I kind of knew all week, but I was for sure by Wednesday that he was kind of sick,” Gay said. “So I got my mind ready the whole time, and I was ready to step up."

Gay said he knew he had to take ownership of the position he was given, and he did so by having his best game of his career as he made a career high of nine tackles, including six solo tackles.

“I knew I had to step up, because Leo (Lewis) was out,” Gay said. “I knew I was going to have to play the whole game, I was just trying to do my job, and help my team win in any way that I can.”

Gay also helped the Bulldogs record four sacks as he accounted for two of them, the Alabama offensive line had only given up six sacks all season. Gay said getting pressure on Tagovailoa was very important to the success of the defense.

“We just knew we had to get after him,” Gay said. “Get him on the ground, and we got him out of the game in the second half because of the job by the defense. Even when we didn’t get sacks, they were hurrying the ball, scrambling around.”

Despite the strength of the defense, the team went into halftime down by three touchdowns, but head coach Joe Moorhead had one message for his players, and Gay said the message was to simply keep playing.

“Just do not look at the scoreboard, just keep playing and just do what we do. Do not give up plays like we did. Don’t give them any cushion to execute,'" Gay said on Moorhead's words. "And that is exactly what we did (in the second half).”

The team only gave up a field goal in the second half, and stopped Alabama on the goal line late in the fourth quarter. Gay said they did win the turnover battle as they forced two turnovers, where as Alabama only had one. However, he felt like they could have been better in the first half.

“We won the turnover battle, I heard that,” Gay said. “We had to start fast, and we just did not do that. We gave up two touchdowns early, which lead to the 21 points scored at the half. That is one thing we got to continue to work on.”

It was obvious the Bulldogs made an adjustment at halftime, and Gay said part of the change was how they identified their problem as starting slow, and then they bounced back in the second half.

“We know we started out slow,” Gay said. “Gave up some plays in the run game and a few passes. We knew we had to bounce back in the second half, and that is exactly what we did as we gave up three points.”

The defense did give the offense many opportunities to get back in the game, but the offense could not score a touchdown aside from the one taken away by a block in the back call. Gay said the defense had to work to keep it close in order to give their teammates a shot.

“We just try to keep fighting, if we keep our heads up,” Gay said. “We know they are going to keep their heads up, and do everything they can to get points up on the board. We try to put points up on the board if we get that opportunity.”

The 24-point win from Alabama was not only the lowest amount they have scored all season, but also the smallest margin of victory for them. It was clear the defense had done their job and given the team a chance to win.

“When you do your job, it is not hard,” Gay said. “In a team when you can do your job, they are just all the same. If you do your job, you can execute, and make plays. You hold teams to not having as many points scored.”

MSU will look to move on to the next game as they face the University of Arkansas at 11 a.m. Nov. 17. The game will be the last home game of the year, as well as the military appreciation night.

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