COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - All of Ohio State's NCAA investigations and sanctions might not have been as painful for Buckeyes fans as this.
Kirk Cousins threw a 33-yard scoring pass to B.J. Cunningham and Michigan State's No. 1-ranked defense overwhelmed the bumbling Buckeyes 10-7 Saturday, shutting them out until the final seconds.
Interim coach Luke Fickell, who took over when Jim Tressel was pushed out for breaking NCAA rules, could only allude to the ugly defeat as "what happened today."
Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) came in as the national leader in total defense (172 yards per game) and passing defense (101 ypg) - and backed up that lofty ranking. The Spartans allowed just 178 total yards and 143 yards through the air while posting nine sacks and snuffing the Buckeyes' ground attack, permitting just 35 yards on 39 attempts.
So disappointed was a partisan crowd of 105,306 that from time to time boos cascaded down on the punchless offense.
"Am I surprised (by the boos)?" repeated Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, the Buckeyes' defensive coordinator from 2001-3. "I used to work here. I'm just saying ..."
When the Spartans defense wasn't making plays, Ohio State was doing what it could to help them. The Buckeyes (3-2, 0-1), behind true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, stumbled all day on offense. Joe Bauserman led Ohio State to its only score, a 34-yard pass to Evan Spencer with 10 seconds left. The Spartans then recovered the onside kick.
Fickell said after the game that he might just open up the quarterback job to the four contenders - also including Kenny Guiton and Taylor Graham - who had fought for it during spring and preseason practices. At another point he said Miller would remain his starter.
One thing he was not confused about was went wrong for Miller.
"Things were happening fast for him," Fickell said. "He just maybe didn't see the field real well. We thought we were going to have to throw the football, as many people as they were putting in there (on the line to stop the run) and as much heat as they were bringing. We thought our best option was to go with a guy that probably could see the field a little bit better and throw the football a little bit better."
Bauserman came on to hit half of his 14 passes for 87 yards, while Miller was 5 of 10 for 56 yards with an interception.
Dan Conroy added a 50-yard field goal for the Spartans, far from flawless but thoroughly in command.
It was a glorious homecoming for 24 Michigan State players and several coaches born in Ohio. Dantonio, an Ohio native, was in charge of the defense when Ohio State won the 2002 national championship.
Now his name will certainly pop up on the list of candidates when Ohio State looks for a new permanent coach after the season. Fickell, who worked on the defensive staff with Dantonio at Ohio State, took over in May when Tressel was forced out for not telling his superiors that he knew about players accepting cash and tattoos in violation of NCAA bylaws.
"Every year going way back, the Michigan State and Ohio State rivalry has been special," said Dantonio. The teams shared the Big Ten title a year ago with Wisconsin.
The Spartans ended a seven-game losing skid to the Buckeyes.
"This was a big program win," said Dantonio, in his fifth year at MSU. "Ohio State was the only team we hadn't beaten in the conference."
Ohio State's erratic and ineffective offense almost made history. The Buckeyes had not been shut out in 183 home games, dating to a 6-0 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 9, 1982, and hadn't been shut out anywhere since a 28-0 loss at Michigan on Nov. 20, 1993.
Cousins completed 20 of 32 passes for 250 yards with two interceptions. Cunningham, the Big Ten's leading receiver, had nine catches for 154 yards.
Cousins acknowledged that the outcome could have been more lopsided.
"We didn't finish our drives. We could have had 20 to 25-plus points," he said.
He threw an interception in the end zone to take a certain field goal off the board and then threw another pick late in the game. But he also lofted a high spiral over the middle that Cunningham pulled away from a defender on Michigan State's second possession of the game for a quick 7-0 lead.
"When you really look at it, their wide-out made a big play on a ball thrown up in the air," Fickell said.
From then on, Ohio State couldn't do anything against a ferocious Spartans defense that shut down the Buckeyes' running attack and continually harassed the quarterbacks.
Linebacker Max Bullough had nine tackles, including a sack, while Denicos Allen and Chris Norman each had two sacks.
"We really wanted a goose-egg. We thought about that at halftime," Bullough said.
But the result more than made up for the late touchdown.
"It's a big win for us to come out and beat a team like Ohio State, let alone at the Horseshoe," he added. "It's another stepping point to the Big Ten championship."