Michigan St. claims share of Big Ten title
Michigan State marched off the field toward their sliver of boisterous, green-clad fans savoring a memorable trip to chilly Happy Valley.
The 11th-ranked Spartans were headed home with a share of their first Big Ten title for the first time in two decades.
Edwin Baker ran for 118 yards and a touchdown, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns to B.J. Cunnigham, and the defense held off a fourth-quarter charge by penalty-prone Penn State for a 28-22 win at blustery Beaver Stadium.
"We're Big Ten champions. No one can ever take it away from us," Cousins said. "It's going on the wall at Spartan Stadium."
A rally was scheduled Saturday night at the Breslin Center in East Lansing to welcome the team home after the momentous victory, though the Spartans (11-1, 7-1) still have to wait and see whether it's good enough for the Rose Bowl.
No. 8 Ohio State beat Michigan on Saturday, while No. 5 Wisconsin routed Northwestern. Since all three teams finished with identical records, the Bowl Championship Series standings would be break the tie — and the Spartans came into the week trailing their Big Ten rivals.
Stoic as ever, coach Mark Dantonio put the spotlight on the hard-earned conference title.
"Our goal was to win the championship. That's our No. 1 goal," he said. "Where people place us from there, we'll still go to whatever bowl we go to as Big Ten champions."
Penn State (7-5, 4-4) scored 19 fourth-quarter points, and fans had dreams of an unlikely comeback after Matt McGloin found Derek Moye for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 56 seconds left. Michigan State recovered the ensuing onsides kick to finally seal the win after leading 14-3 at halftime.
"We've got to learn to play a full game," McGloin said. "Today we came out flat, and we ended up" playing well. McGloin finished 23 of 43 passing for 312 yards with two fourth-quarter touchdowns and an interception.
Following an uneven start, McGloin did become the first player in program history with back-to-back 300-yard passing games. He also connected with fullback Joe Suhey for a 25-yard touchdown pass in a fourth quarter that featured two missed two-point conversion tries.
"I thought we played very, very well until the end of the game," Dantonio said. "We could've ended it easily at 28-10, but we'll take it."
Bowl questions aside, Dantonio can relish an 11-win season and the end of an eight-game road losing streak to Penn State for its first win in Happy Valley since 1965 — the year before Joe Paterno took over as head coach.
Penn State managed just a 34-yard field in the first half against a Spartans defense that gave up 85 yards and a touchdown to Evan Royster. Penalty flags sapped momentum, too, for the Nittany Lions, especially in a choppy first half that left them playing catch-up.
"I don't know if it cost us the game, but it sure had an impact on it," Paterno said. "But you know, every time we complain about something like that, it takes something away from the other (team). I think Michigan State is a good, solid football team."
Jerel Worthy's sack of McGloin helped stop one early third-quarter drive, and Penn State followed with another three-and-out deep in its own territory and punted back to the Michigan State 48. Cousins followed with a six-play, 52-yard drive capped by his second touchdown pass to Cunningham for an 18-point lead.
The left shoulder and left ankle injuries that had Cousins hobbling off the field after last week's win over Purdue weren't bothering him Saturday. He finished 17 of 22 passing.
In 2008, the Spartans watched while Penn State players dance around the Beaver Stadium field with roses in their mouths after a 49-18 rout sent the Nittany Lions to the Rose Bowl. This time, it was Michigan State savoring a season-ending victory for a title.
The young Nittany Lions, who start eight seniors, were uncharacteristically undisciplined with eight penalties for 67 yards. They had averaged an FBS-best 28 penalty yards per game.
The opening drive set the tone after Baker opened with a 16-yard rush, and a third-and-4 at the Spartans 49 turned into a first down on the Penn State 35 after defensive tackle Devon Still was called for a late hit on Cousins.
Baker carried five of the next six plays, capped by his 7-yard dash into the left front pylon of the end zone for a 7-0 lead in a score upheld by replay review.