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Cobb's 94-yard kickoff return ignites Spartans

September 8, 2003

He's been on the team only a short time and few Spartan fans know his name.

But as No. 21 darted in and out of holes en route to a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown, MSU faithful fell in love.

Junior college transfer DeAndra Cobb did what no Spartan has done since special teams All-American Herb Haygood returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Iowa on Oct. 31, 2001.

"I anticipated that it would open up to the left, so I was trying to make them think I was going right," Cobb said. "When the hole opened, I tried to hit it as fast as I can.

"I think it boosted the team tremendously. After that, we just tried to put them in our back pocket and leave them there."

Cobb's second-quarter touchdown tied the game at 21 and the Spartans romped from there, scoring 30 consecutive points to mount a huge lead.

Coach John L. Smith said that he didn't decide to start the newcomer until Saturday morning.

His main concern when considering the switch from sophomore wide receiver Kyle Brown to Cobb was whether the junior could consistently catch the ball on the kickoff, something that appears to be much easier than it actually is.

"Cobb has legit speed," Smith said. "We were worried about him catching the ball, so we worked this week on him catching it.

"But I knew he was going to hit it downhill. And that's the thing about the kickoff return, you're going to hit it downhill and all you can do is hope that it opens up. But if it doesn't, then you get hit in the mouth."

The junior from Las Vegas, who played running back in junior college, averaged 37.5 yards per return in the game.

Cobb's performance was just one of a group of plays that made the MSU special teams outstanding in Saturday's 44-28 win over Rutgers.

"It livened up the stadium," Cobb said. "So it was a good thing. It turned things around."

The Spartan kickers also put on a show Saturday, booming punts and kicks with no remorse.

Junior place-kicker Dave Rayner made all three of his field-goal attempts (38, 30 and 24 yards, respectively) and booted seven of his nine kickoffs into the end zone or through it for touchbacks.

And his redshirt-freshman punting sidekick Brandon Fields had his own impressive day, including a 74-yard punt in the second quarter that was downed at the 4-yard line.

The 6-foot-5, 219-pounder, who won the starting job from senior Jason Daily before he was injured, probably secured his position by averaging 52.3 yards per punt, as well as three punts that were stopped inside the 20-yard line.

"Last week, he came in and didn't punt that well, and I made fun of him all week," Rayner said. "I just kind of told him that he needed to, you know, take his purse off. So, I think he punted well today."

The one main concern on special teams is that senior wide receiver Ziehl Kavanaght does not seem to be much of a punt-returning threat.

On four returns Saturday, he totaled a mere 23 yards.

"On the punt return, I was still hoping we could get a block, but we got close," Smith said. "That's the one that I don't know if we believe in yet. We've really got to believe."

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