for this game

MSU tunes up for Big Ten title game with defeat of Wildcats

Nov 27, 2011 - 12:11 AM Evanston, IL (Sports Network) - Kirk Cousins became Michigan State's all-time leader in touchdown passes with a pair of scoring strikes to B.J. Cunningham, as the 11th-ranked Spartans tuned up for next week's Big Ten championship game with a 31-17 victory over Northwestern at Ryan Field.

Cousins, who completed 14-of-20 passes for 214 yards, already owns the school record for most wins by a starting quarterback and his two TD passes on Saturday gave him 62 for his career, surpassing Jeff Smoker's mark of 61.

"It means a great deal more to the guys around me than to me, I think," Cousins said. "We all care so much about one another. None of those touchdowns I threw by myself -- I passed to someone, I had an offensive lineman protecting me."

Cunningham finished with six receptions for 120 yards, while Keshawn Martin keyed the victory with a 57-yard punt return for a score in the final minute of the first half. Le'Veon Bell added 86 yards on the ground with a touchdown.

Michigan State (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) won its last four games to close the regular season and next week will play Wisconsin in the first Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.

Dan Persa threw for 245 yards with a pair of touchdowns for Northwestern (6-6, 3-5), which had a four-game winning streak snapped.

"We've got a long way to go as far as a program to get ourselves to Indianapolis, but I don't think we're that far away," said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "I don't think we're that far away at all. That's probably what's most disappointing right now."

The Wildcats nearly matched Michigan State in every statistical category, but the Spartans scored on two drives of more than 90 yards and got a big special teams play that helped provide the difference.

Michigan State was holding a seven-point lead in the final minute of the first half when Martin fielded a punt at his own 43 and found some room along the right sideline. He cruised to the end zone with just 34 seconds remaining to extend the Spartans' advantage to 17-3.

Northwestern scored on its opening series of the second half when Persa hit Jeremy Ebert with a two-yard pass. A 69-yard connection with Drake Dunsmore on 3rd-and-13 set up the touchdown.

Michigan State responded with a 67-yard march and again opened a two-touchdown margin when Cousins converted his own 3rd-and-13 with a 33-yard scoring strike to Cunningham.

The Wildcats again made it a seven-point game early in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard TD pass from Persa to Demetrius Fields, then got the ball back near midfield after a punt. A holding penalty quickly stemmed the momentum and the Wildcats were forced to kick it away.

Michigan State was pinned at its own seven following the punt, but Cousins hit Cunningham for 14 yards to escape the shadow of his own goal line and later found Cunningham again for 25 yards on 3rd-and-4. The two again hooked up for a 29-yard score to complete the nine-play drive, giving the Spartans a 31-17 edge with 5:17 to play.

Persa again tried to respond, marching the Wildcats inside the Michigan State 20, but he was sacked on 4th-and-18 to turn it back over to the Spartans with three minutes remaining.

Michigan State ran off all but the final 42 seconds to secure its fourth straight win in the series.

The teams traded field goals to start the scoring, as Dan Conroy drilled a 25- yarder late in the first quarter for Michigan State and Jeff Budzien countered with a 34-yard kick in the first minute of the second.

A trade of turnovers followed. Cousins was picked off by Jeravin Matthews at the Northwestern 35 and the Wildcats marched inside the Michigan State five before Treyvon Green fumbled on the 15th play of the series.

The Spartans then drove 97 yards the other way for the game's first touchdown. Bell's 15-yard run on the first play ignited the eight-play set and Cousins hit Martin for 46 to set up a first down at the Northwestern seven. Bell scored on the next play for a 10-3 lead.

Game Notes

Cunningham recorded his seventh 100-yard receiving game of the season, matching Devin Thomas' school record set in 2007...Martin was the last Spartan with a punt return for a touchdown, taking one back 74 yards against Wisconsin on October 2, 2010...Ebert finished with seven catches for 39 yards for Northwestern and became the school's first 1,000-yard receiver since Dwayne Bates in 1998...Michigan State leads the all-time series, 36-16, including a mark of 18-10 in Evanston.