EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)—Michigan State collected two trophies and a spot in the first Big Ten championship game in one afternoon.
Yes, this was definitely a productive Saturday for the Spartans.
“The journey isn’t over—we still want to finish this off,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “But I want to congratulate the senior class for winning 35 games—the winningest class in the history of Michigan State football.”
The Spartans entered with a one-game lead in the Legends Division over Nebraska and Michigan, who were playing at the same time in Ann Arbor. When the Wolverines won, it clinched the division for Michigan State (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) because of its 28-14 win over Michigan on Oct. 15.
Michigan’s victory led to the unthinkable at Spartan Stadium—a cheer for the Wolverines.
“The only trophy Coach let us look at this week was the one for the Indiana game—the Old Brass Spittoon,” Cousins said. “Our focus has always been to win this game and win next week and not need any help to get into the championship game. We got some help, but we still want to beat Northwestern and then take that momentum to Indianapolis.”
Once the game was over, Dantonio let his team see the Legends Division trophy.
“This is special, because this is something we built,” he said. “It wasn’t here when we got here, but we brought in players that we thought could play, and they overachieved and bought into what we wanted to do.”
Cousins hit B.J. Cunningham for a 7-yard touchdown on Michigan State’s first possession of the second half, giving the Spartans a 41-3 lead. The senior handed off on the first play of the next drive, then was replaced by Andrew Maxwell.
Cousins saluted the Spartans logo at midfield before leaving to a large ovation. He finished 16-of-23, and now has 60 career touchdown passes, one short of Jeff Smoker’s school record.
“We talked about leaving here the right way—we’ve seen the basketball team do it, and we wanted to leave in style,” he said. “To play a flawless game in our last game at Spartan Stadium, and then be in a position to just sit back and take in the whole second half—that’s a huge thrill.”
Michigan State finished with 470 yards of offense to 234 for Indiana (1-10, 0-7), and forced the game’s only two turnovers.
“I can’t even tell you how excited I am right now,” senior safety Trenton Robinson said. “We’re the first team to ever win our way into the Big Ten championship, and we did with such a great game. … This was the best moment of my career.”
The Spartans scored on their first two possessions, thanks to a pair of big passes from Cousins to Cunningham. The first, a 37-yarder, led to a 21-yard field goal by Dan Conroy. On the second, Indiana’s defense bit hard on a play-fake, leaving Cunningham alone behind the defense for a 63-yard score.
Another big play lifted Michigan State to a 17-0 lead after one. Cousins hit Keshawn Martin on the sideline, and the senior wide receiver avoided two poor tackles before racing into the end zone for a 47-yard score.
“Credit Michigan State—they are pretty good and they were ready to play,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. “But we had a very poor plan by us coaches and not very good playing from our kids.”
By the end, Michigan State was comfortable enough to run an end-around for star guard Joel Foreman, who gained 3 yards before coming out for his own ovation.
“For me, the highlights are always going to be our four wins against Michigan,” the senior said. “But it was great to go out and play the way we did today.”
Dantonio said no one would sit out next Saturday’s game at Northwestern, because the Spartans still have a chance to move up in the rankings before the Dec. 3 championship game in Indianapolis.
“We’re not done,” Robinson said. “We want to be 10-2 going into the championship game, and then we want to win that and go to the Rose Bowl.”