(Saturday, October 16th)
Final Score: (13) Michigan State 26, Illinois 6
East Lansing, MI (Sports Network) - Kirk Cousins threw for 201 yards with a touchdown and Dan Conroy kicked four field goals, as 13th-ranked Michigan State pulled away in the second half and remained unbeaten with a 26-6 victory over Illinois at Spartan Stadium.
B.J. Cunningham broke a tie with a 48-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter and Larry Caper added a 15-yard scoring run in the fourth for Michigan State, which outscored Illinois 23-0 in the second half and beat the Illini for the 11th time in the last 12 meetings.
"Our football team came out the second half and played extremely well, I felt," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "Turnovers were the difference, really, and special teams today - opportunistic offense."
Michigan State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten), with Dantonio again in the coach's box, has won its first seven games for the first time since the 1966 squad opened 9-0.
Nate Scheelhaase completed 15-of-27 passes for 141 yards and was intercepted three times for Illinois (3-3, 1-2), which was coming off a 33-13 win at Penn State last Saturday after opening conference play with a hard-fought 24-13 loss to Ohio State.
"I don't think, particularly in the second half, we played well enough to win," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "That's a good football team [MSU], and without looking at the tape, to me, it is the best team we have played to date."
The Spartans trailed 6-3 at halftime, but Johnny Adams intercepted Scheelhaase on the fifth offensive play of the third quarter, setting up a 34-yard Conroy field goal to tie it.
Illinois then went three-and-out and Cousins gave the Spartans the lead for the first time with a 48-yard touchdown pass to Cunningham, who was wide open behind the Illini secondary.
The Illini tried to answer as Scheelhaase hit A.J. Jenkins with a pass over the middle that would have set up a first down at the Spartan 20, but the receiver was stripped of the ball as he was being tackled and Michigan State recovered. The play was reviewed, but the call on the field stood and the Spartans took over.
Cousins hit Cunningham for 20 yards soon after and the Spartans drove far enough for a 32-yard Conroy field goal for a 16-6 edge late in the third. Michigan State got the ball again after an Illinois punt and marched to the Illini one-yard line before Conroy again was true from 18 yards away with 11 1/2 minutes left.
Trenton Robinson then picked off Scheelhaase and the Spartans followed with a 58-yard drive for another score. Cousins threw just one pass on the eight-play series, which Caper finished with a 15-yard touchdown run to account for the final margin.
Caper ran for 37 yards on seven carries, while Edwin Baker managed just 23 yards on eight attempts. Le'Veon Bell was held to 13 yards on 10 carries for Michigan State, which mustered just 93 rushing yards -- well below its average of 225 yards entering the contest.
Illinois forced a punt from Michigan State on the game's initial series, then drove 66 yards for the first points. Scheelhaase converted a pair of third- down passes and a Spartan penalty on a third-down incomplete pass prolonged the march, but the Illini had to settle for a 21-yard Derek Dimke field goal.
Scheelhaase had the Illini deep in Michigan State territory on the next series, but he was intercepted by Marcus Hyde at the 26-yard line. Hyde's 30- yard return gave the Spartans good field position at the Illinois 44, but Cousins was stopped on 4th-and-1 soon after.
The Spartans managed to tie the game on their next offensive set, as Cousins hit Mark Dell with passes of 20 and 21 yards to set up a 37-yard Conroy field goal with 6:47 left in the half.
Illinois followed with a drive across midfield, but was forced to punt in the final minute. Keshawn Martin, however, fumbled and Nate Bussey recovered for the Illini at the Michigan State 15, setting up a 33-yard Dimke field goal to send the visitors to the break with a 6-3 edge.
Cunningham had 83 yards on just three catches...Illinois' Mikel Leshoure ran for 83 yards on 23 carries...The Spartans entered the game with a plus-five turnover margin and increased that by four on Saturday...Illinois finished with just 255 yards of offense, while Michigan State had only 294...The Spartans visit Northwestern next Saturday, while the Illini return home to face Indiana...Michigan State improved to 62-30-3 on Homecoming, including 5-4-1 against Illinois...The Spartans lead the all-time series, 25-17-2, which includes a 13-8-1 mark in East Lansing.
10/16 19:44:03 ET