STARKVILLE • Mississippi State made the decision to suit up and play several players who had previously been suspended for most of – if not all – of the early season.
Defensive tackle Lee Autry was the only previously suspended player to start the contest against Kentucky, but linebacker Willie Gay Jr. got in the game early and made an immediate impact.
On Gay’s first defensive rep of the season, the Starkville native picked off Sawyer Smith and returned it 52 yards for the first touchdown of the game. Gay also had a tackle for loss but was ejected in the second quarter after picking up his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“He was broke up about it, I’m not going to lie,” said MSU coach Joe Moorhead. “Willie’s a kid who loves Mississippi State, this football team and the defense. I told him there was nothing we could do to change it and we’ve got to learn from it.
“He did a good job picking up the defense emotionally in the second half. I wish we had 100 Willie’s.”
Wide receiver Devonta Jason and safety Marcus Murphy also saw their first action of the season after being suspended the first three games.
The Bulldogs also got starting left guard Dareuan Parker back from a lower body injury sustained in the season opener against Louisiana.
Strength in numbers
“It helped from a game day performance context but also moral and practice depth,” Moorhead said. “Certainly when you’re at full strength you prepare better and play better.”
However, the Bulldogs were without starting quarterback Tommy Stevens and wide receiver Stephen Guidry due to injury.
“We were holding out hope against hope,” Moorhead said. “Guidry came down to today and we didn’t want to do something to re-aggravate it down the line. Tommy worked, progressed and rehabbed it. There were both end of the week kind of things. We kind of had a feel for Tommy earlier.”
Running back Nick Gibson (lower body) dressed out but did not play.