Oct. 1, 2011
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Michigan State, ranked No. 1 in the FBS in total defense entering Saturday's game at Ohio State, lived up to its billing in a 10-7 win over the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium.
The Spartans (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) kept Ohio State (3-1, 0-1) off the scoreboard until the final 10 seconds of the game, as Evan Spencer's 33-yard TD reception prevented MSU from recording its first-ever shutout over the Buckeyes.
MSU recorded nine sacks and 13 tackles for loss, both the highest totals for a Spartan defense in the Mark Dantonio era. Seven different players recorded sacks, led by Chris Norman and William Gholston, who each collected a career-high three tackles for loss. Norman had a career-high two sacks for 13 yards, and Denicos Allen also produced two sacks for 16 yards.
"It was a big program win for us," said Dantonio. "I thought our guys played well, especially together. We played well on special teams and defense. You have to play good defense and special teams and protect the quarterback to win. I thought we did all of those things today."
Michigan State scored the game's only touchdown midway through the first quarter on Kirk Cousins' 33-yard strike to B.J. Cunningham in the back of the endzone. Cunningham finished with nine catches for 154 yards - the most receiving yards ever by a Spartan against Ohio State - and it marked his fifth career 100-yard receiving game and third of the season.
"I looked back and (Kirk) was rolling out," said Cunningham on his touchdown catch. "I wanted to try to get open and try to make a play. He threw the ball up, trusted me, and I just went and made a play on the ball."
Cousins finished 20-of-32 passing for 250 yards and two interceptions.
Although turnovers halted several potential scoring drives, the Spartans did extend their lead to 10-0 early in the fourth quarter on Dan Conroy's 50-yard field goal, which tied his career long.
It was all the defense would need.
Ohio State was held to 178 total yards of offense - and got 62 of those yards on their last drive of the game. The Buckeyes rushed for just 4 yards in the second half and had 35 yards on the ground total.
"I have to credit my defensive coaches with coming up with a good game plan," said Huber Heights, Ohio, native Jerel Worthy, who had a 5-yard sack in the second quarter. "We had a lot of pressure early. Once you get into that rhythm, you realize the offensive line is on their heels a little bit, you kind of want to keep the pressure on."
For Michigan State, it was the best defensive performance for the program against Ohio State since its last win over OSU in 1999 when the Buckeyes rushed for 0 net yards and had just 79 total yards of offense. The victory also snapped MSU's seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes, and it marked MSU's first win over Ohio State in Columbus since 1998.
"Give a lot of credit to Michigan State," said Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell. "They came in here and outplayed us."
The Spartans will now have a bye week to prepare for Michigan on Oct. 15 in Spartan Stadium.