EAST LANSING, Mich. (Sports Network) - Kirk Cousins threw three touchdown passes, leading 24th-ranked Michigan State to a 34-24 victory over 11th-ranked Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener for both schools.
Cousins completed 20-of-29 passes for 269 yards and was picked off twice for Michigan State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten), which won its first five games for the first time since 1999 despite playing without head coach Mark Dantonio. Dantonio, who suffered a heart attack two weeks ago, was expected to be in the press box on Saturday, but was re-admitted to the hospital Thursday with a blood clot in his leg.
Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell guided the team in Dantonio's absence, and the Spartans racked up 444 total yards of offense in the key victory. Edwin Baker ran for 87 yards, while Le'Veon Bell garnered 75 yards on the ground. Mark Dell caught six passes for 91 yards and a score for MSU.
Scott Tolzien struggled for Wisconsin (4-1, 0-1), completing only 11-of-25 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. The Badgers, who scored a school-record 70 points in a win last week, recorded only 292 yards of total offense, with most of that coming from running backs James White and John Clay, who recorded 98 and 80 yards, respectively. White ran for two touchdowns in defeat.
Trailing 10-3 early in the second quarter, the Spartans responded with 17 straight points before halftime to move in front for good.
Michigan State had turned the ball over on two consecutive possessions prior to the spurt, but used a Dan Conroy 36-yard field goal with 10 1/2 minutes left in the first half to cut the deficit to 10-6.
Wisconsin followed with a three-and-out, and Keshawn Martin returned the ensuing punt 74 yards to the end zone for a touchdown and 13-10 Spartans lead.
The Badgers struggled to move the ball on their next two touches, and Michigan State got the ball back with 2:52 until halftime. Facing a 4th-and-1 from the Wisconsin 48, Michigan State opted to go for it, and Bell ran for 23 yards to keep the drive moving. With just under a half-minute left, on 3rd-and-5 from the eight-yard line, Cousins hit Dell for a touchdown and 20-10 advantage at the break.
Wisconsin crept closer in the early portion of the third, as White capped a brief three-play drive with a 34-yard touchdown run for a three-point contest. The Spartans had an answer, however, on Cousins' one-yard scoring pass to Charlie Gantt to restore the 10-point margin on the penultimate play of the third quarter.
The Badgers kept the heat on Michigan State, responding with an 11-play drive that ended in Tolzien's 12-yard scoring pass to Jacob Pedersen with 11 minutes remaining. The Spartans, though, were able to come up with a back-breaking 15- play series that chewed up over eight minutes of the remaining time.
On the third play of the drive, Cousins faced a 3rd-and-9 from the MSU 17, but found Dell for a 12-yard completion and a first down. Three plays later, Michigan State had 3rd-and-11, and Cousins came up big again with a 35-yard strike to Larry Caper.
The Spartans ran on the next eight plays, draining the clock and putting Michigan State at the Wisconsin one-yard line on fourth down. Electing to go for it, Cousins found B.J. Cunningham in the end zone to give the hosts a 34-24 lead with just under three minutes remaining.
Wisconsin's last-ditch effort failed when the Badgers gained only 14 yards on a 4th-and-17 pass play from the Spartans' 46.
Michigan State took the early lead on Conroy's 36-yard field goal just 5 1/2 minutes into the game, but Wisconsin took its first lead in the opening moments of the second quarter after a turnover.
Antonio Fenelus picked off a Cousins throw deep in Badgers territory, and the visitors marched 74 yards in eight plays. On 3rd-and-4 from the MSU 42, Tolzien found Pedersen for a 26-yard gain, and White scampered in from 16 yards away on the next play for a 7-3 lead with 14 1/2 minutes until halftime.
The Spartans committed another turnover on their next series -- deep in their own territory -- resulting in a Philip Welch 49-yard field goal to extend Wisconsin's lead to 10-3.