September 26, 2010 12:11:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Entering Saturday''s game, Derek DePasquale had attempted just two of MSU''s 10 kickoffs this season.
Saturday, he gave head coach Dan Mullen the high-hanging, deep kickoffs he''s been searching for since Week 1.
DePasquale, who filled in superbly for injured teammate Sean Brauchle in the last half of the 2009 season, put both of his first half kickoffs into the endzone. One counted for a touchback, while the other placed UGA at its own 13-yard line. DePasquale''s touchback was MSU''s first since the ''08 season.
A week after LSU had an average starting field position of plus-47 against the Bulldogs, Mullen was pleased to see DePasquale give the Bulldogs a positive start to the game.
The execution in the kicking game popped the lid on a flawless start for State, which followed the opening kick with a sack of UGA''s Aaron Murray and a touchdown on just four plays of offense.
"It was critical," Mullen said. "We did talk about that. I think someone mentioned to me that seven of the last eight games we''ve cored on the opening drive of the second half. We needed to do that in the first half. We wanted to come out fast and get a fast start. We were able to do that, and I think that gave our guys the confidence to make the plays in the game that we made them right from play one."
Overall, the kicking game was solid as Brauchle nailed a 44-yard field goal in the second half and punter Heath Hutchins put two of his three punts inside the UGA 20.
Brauchle and DePasquale have rotated for most of the season on kickoffs, and Mullen is hopeful the performances by both of his kickers carries over.
"Certainly, the gust of win tonight at our back didn''t hurt," Mullen said. "Sean came up to me after he kicked our last two kickoffs and said ''I''ll put them out of the back of the endzone.'' If you got it, go with it. That''s what we''re looking for. Somebody who wants to go make a play.
"We used both of them, and they kicked the ball well. And hopefully that''ll get them out of whatever funk they''ve been in."
McKenzie leaves team
Mississippi State redshirt freshman Johnathan McKenzie left the team Friday to concentrate on academics, the team confirmed.
The former Starkville Academy star and Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Player of the Year started one game this season and had four tackles, one of which came behind the line of scrimmage.
He was a regular contributor on Mississippi State''s second wave of defensive linemen.
McKenzie, son of MSU athletics Executive Associate Athletic Director and former player Duncan McKenzie, was a 4.0 student in high school and had a reputation for being a strong student.
His departure struck a deep nerve with a close teammate.
"For me, me and him was close friends," defensive end Pernell McPhee said. "So for me, it was kind of tough. By seeing this guy, a good guy, it''s kind of tough for me. It''s sad. That''s the only thing I got to say about that one.
Tight ends don''t dress
Brandon Henderson and Marcus Green didn''t make sufficient progress in their recoveries from respective knee surgeries, and as a result did not play Saturday.
Head coach Dan Mullen wanted to see how both players reacted at the end of the week following closely-monitored training on Tuesday.
The team gave no timetable on either player''s return ahead of next week''s game against Alcorn State.
Tight ends Kendrick Cook and Thomas Webb filled in for Green and Henderson.