"I was watching the receiver more," Slay said. "We were in man coverage so I had to focus on my man. And I knew what route he was going to run because I saw it on film."
Soon as he came down with the pick Slay could see something else.
"Nothing but touchdown in the end zone!"
Slay's final stat-line also showed a tackle for loss and a forced fumble, though that was recovered by the receiver he separated the ball from. Allowing for his other September work, this was the junior transfer's true debut as a play-maker.
"I was in on a lot of tackles," he said. "I really don't know why, Coach told me he was going to play me a lot this week so I was prepared and ready to play. I stepped out here and made big plays and that's what I came here for."
Slay came on the second try as he was signed in 2009 out of Brunswick, Ga., before taking the academic route through Itawamba CC.
"I've waited for a long time, so I was just ready to make plays. It feels good to come back home and make big plays, I had a lot of family and teammates out there supporting me."
Most of Slay's snaps came at the expense of starter Corey Broomfield, he of the nine career interceptions and three pick-sixes himself. But Broomfield has a sprained thumb—he wore a protective cast to a midweek press conference—and Coach Dan Mullen factored that into the rotation decisions.
"And Darius has played well, he's made steps forward," Mullen said. "When a guy plays at a level where he's equal he deserves playing time we're going to get him on the field."
*The pick-six was State's second of the season. CB Johnthan Banks had a touchdown return at Auburn.
The Bulldog defense did make other marks on Murray. LB Cameron Lawrence intercepted him in the second quarter, the junior's first career pick; and prior to that S Nickoe Whitley also snared a Murray pass. It was the sixth of his 21-game-so-far career.
LOCAL HERO: Slay wasn't the only Georgia native seeing action on his state university's field. DE Preston Smith, from nearby Stone Mountain, got into the game in the first half and played extensively in the second. In the process he became the third true 2011 freshman activated by Mullen, along with ST/S Dee Arrington and DT P.J. Jones.
Smith was credited with one tackle in his college debut. Jones played a good bit as well. For that matter several redshirt freshmen saw more snaps than usual, such as CB Jamerson Love, WR Malcolm Johnson, and DT Curtis Virges.
"I told our coaches we can't be nervous about playing young guys," Mullen said. "We have to get them out on the field and see if they can make plays. And a bunch of young guys I thought stepped up and started to play more. We can't just have one group of guys play 70 plays and nobody else play. We have to roll people like everybody else does in this league. Just because they're inexperienced, we need to get them experience."
GETTING HIS SHOT(S): Another Dog confined so far to special teams finally got a turn at his intended position. In the third quarter redshirt freshman Dylan Favre was sent in to quarterback for the first time as a collegian.
"I was just standing on the sideline and Coach called Chris (Relf) to the sideline and told me to run in," Favre said.
Actually, he wasn't directly replacing Relf. The starter had run for 13 yards on State's first snap of the half, out to the 41-yard line. Already having taken plenty first-half hits, Relf went to the sideline while WR Jameon Lewis lined up for the direct snap; his own first such play at State. It netted three yards. Then came Favre's turn.
No dramatics were in store though; Favre had to scramble around before going down for a ten-yard loss, then was incomplete on his first passing attempt. Still, "Man, I was excited obviously. I'm sure any guy on our team, we love to play football, that's why we're here doing what we do. I was excited taking my first snap, it was a little nerves at the beginning but I thought I got comfortable quick.
"I just couldn't get anything going, get a first down and get into the flow of the game. But it's definitely exciting to get the first experience."
Favre came back for one other snap in that quarter, a 3rd-and-4 where he missed WR Chad Bumphis. So officially he was 0-of-2 in the debut with a sack.
"We wanted to get him in," Mullen said. "Chris was running the ball well, gets a first down and looked a little bit shaky. I wanted to go fast and keep some momentum going so I threw Dylan out there so Chris come catch his breath."
Relf later explained that while he looked rough getting up after a scramble, he had landed facemask-first and was trying to clear grass from his facemask; not cobwebs.
By the same token, OC Quentin Saulsberry was not surprised Favre found his way into the game. Or not much, since because it was no-huddle Saulsberry was over the ball by the time Favre arrived from the sideline.
"I really didn't know who was back there at the time," Saulsberry said. "I look back and I may see some white legs or some black legs, that's it. Shorter legs at that! And I saw the 6 was way down here, and the 14 would be up here! But all I do is listen for the clap and keep going."
Not that the senior center was picking on Favre's stature alone, understand.
"Jameon is real short, too. But he's got a little lighter voice, and I can hear that!"
Now that Favre has finally heard the thunder of onrushing tacklers and taken his lumps, he's ready for more. And for better, next time.
"I expect myself to go out there and perform. There's a lot of things I have to improve on but I'm still young." Young enough that the boyish delight resurfaced. "It was awesome, I'm just glad I got an opportunity to play."
*Mullen had said during the week that #2 QB Tyler Russell "was fine to play" in the Louisiana Tech game last Saturday. But after the sophomore was held out another week the coach altered his evaluation.
"Tyler is almost healthy to play, still not 100%. It's good Dylan has taken a snap in case we have to go that way with injuries."
*Mississippi State came into the afternoon the third-best punt coverage team in the country, having allowed a negative-five yards on all opponent returns. It took just one punt to negate the good work so far as Georgia's Brando Boykin slipped the first tackler and made 30 yards. Boykin had a 20-yarder brought back on a blocking foul, but on the four punts that were returned the home Dogs netted 56 yards.
The punting itself wasn't encouraging to begin as P Baker Swedenburg—booting into a stiff wind—hit his first attempt 37 yards and the second just 11 yards. Both presaged Georgia touchdowns working from short fields. But he came back for a 45-yarder into the wind before changing ends, and with the breeze boomed one 56 yards. His final 42.3 yard average was just a half-yard behind his counterpart.
"Baker has been very consistent," Mullen said. "At a big moment he has his worst punt of the year. They have very, very dynamic returners, I thought we did OK—not great—on coverage teams. But we averaged almost similar punts than they did and they have an All-American punter."
NO, NOT AGAIN: After missing two games with a knee sprain, James Carmon returned to the offensive line-up. But not at his prior position of left tackle. Carmon got his first college experience as a guard, starting on the right side there. This allowed Saulsberry, a former guard himself, to return to center in place of last week's starter Dillon Day.
Carmon got a scare when he stayed down after a play at 5:52 of the second quarter, but left the field on his own power and returned for the next series. With three starters having missed games or at least quarters already this season with injuries, one of them—OG Tobias Smith—done for the season, some anxiety was natural, right?
"It wasn't and ‘oh no' moment for me," Saulsberry said. "I knew how I was going to adjust, I called (center) Dillon Day and said get ready, I was going to move to guard. Coach always tells you you're one play away from going in the game."
*For this game two kickers wore the same number, as PK Derek DePasquale shared his #40 with KO Brian Egan. The latter did not wear his usual #53. Since they would never be on the field at the same time there was no problem.
*State debuted a new set of helmets, still maroon with the white M-banner logo but with a dull matte finish.