EAST LANSING, Mich.-- Kirk Cousins threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to B.J. Cunningham in the third quarter, helping No. 13 Michigan State to its best start in more than four decades with a 26-6 win over Illinois on Saturday.
The Spartans (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) started slowly a week after beating Michigan, but they outscored the Illini 23-0 in the second half. They are 7-0 for the first time since 1966, when they won their first nine games before famously tying Notre Dame 10-10.
After Michigan State had trouble running the ball the first two quarters, Cousins came out sharp in the third. His touchdown pass over the middle gave the Spartans a 13-6 lead, and Illinois (3-3, 1-2) couldn't overcome its four turnovers.
Cousins finished 13 of 24 for 201 yards.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who had a mild heart attack last month, coached his second straight game from a box, but he went down to the sideline during the final minutes and received a big ovation from the Homecoming crowd.
Michigan State stumbled through the first half. On fourth-and-1 from the Illinois 35 in the second quarter, Cousins literally fell over after taking the snap, giving the Illini the ball.
Both teams appeared disorganized at the end of the second quarter. Illinois ran on third-and-10 from near midfield and didn't come close to a first down, but Michigan State decided not to call timeout before getting the ball back. That worked in the Spartans' favor because Keshawn Martin muffed the punt, giving the Illini possession at the 15 with 37 seconds left.
Amazingly, Illinois ran only one play from scrimmage, a 1-yard loss by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaasse. Instead of calling time out, the Illini tried to set up their next play, and the clock didn't stop until Michigan State called timeout with 8 seconds left, apparently concerned about its defensive plan.
At that point, the Illini sent out Derek Dimke to kick a 33-yard field goal and went into halftime ahead 6-3.
Michigan State wasted no time tying the game in the third quarter. After an interception gave the Spartans the ball at the Illinois 16, Dan Conroy kicked his second of four field goals.
Cousins put Michigan State ahead to stay with his long touchdown pass. Illinois answered with a 39-yard pass to A.J. Jenkins, but Darqueze Dennard forced a fumble at the end of the play and recovered the ball.
Michigan State was playing without suspended defensive back Chris L. Rucker, who was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated last Sunday.
Larry Caper's 15-yard touchdown run made it 26-6 with 2:35 remaining in the fourth.