The Buckeyes (3-2, 0-1), behind true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, stumbled and bumbled 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.
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. Head coach Mark Dantonio, one of those Buckeye natives, spent three years as Ohio State's defensive coordinator (2001-3). He 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. Luke Fickell, who worked on the defensive staff with Dantonio at Ohio State, is serving as interim head coach. Jim Tressel was forced out for breaking NCAA rules when he played players he should have known were ineligible in 2010.
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 Michigan 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.
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.
Michigan State had nine sacks for 64 yards in losses while Ohio State never got to Cousins.
Both teams repeatedly made gaffes - particularly on offense - that cost them dearly.
With Ohio State facing a 2nd and 17 at its own 27 in the third quarter, Miller fired a pass too hard that went through Carlos Hyde's hands. But Michigan State's Johnny Adams drilled him with a hard shot after the ball went past, resulting in a personal foul for excessive roughness and a gift first down.
Like it did 10 times, Ohio State had to punt the ball away. Soon after, Cousins hit Cunningham on a 52-yard gainer along the right sideline. The Spartans drove to a third and goal at the Ohio State 6 - but then Cousins' fade pass in the left flat was tipped away by Bradley Roby and intercepted by C.J. Barnett to thwart the Spartans going up by two scores.
With the Buckeyes floundering on every possession, Miller was replaced by Bauserman, a fifth-year senior, on their first series of the final quarter. But that, too, ended with a punt.
Taking over at the Buckeyes 39, the Spartans ran three plays and then settled for Conroy's long field goal for a 10-0 lead.
The way Ohio State was going on offense, that lead was more than secure.
The first half was filled with offensive mistakes by both teams. Some were attributable to the chilly, windy weather, some to good defensive plays. But several were just poor execution by the team with the ball.
The Spartans led 7-0 on Cousins' 33-yard scoring pass to Cunningham. But both sides contributed to the low score.
Miller was harassed all the time by Michigan's best-in-the-nation defense. On the Buckeyes' third possession, Miller tossed a ball that was right in the hands of Chris Norman but he dropped it. Darqueze Dennard didn't make the same mistake, tearing the ball out of receiver Devin Smith's arms before he hit the ground after Miller had seemingly given the Buckeyes a first and goal at the 6 by finding Smith.
Miller also recovered his own fumble once, was sacked three times and fell also on a bad snap.
Michigan State wasn't immune to playing fast and loose with the ball, either.
On first down at the Buckeyes 25 late in the half, Cousins simply dropped a ball while attempting to pass. When he fell on the ball, his knee bumped it away to Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins. End of threat.
The Spartans also averted a major disaster on their very first possession when the snap slipped through the hands of punter Mike Sadler and bounded all the way to the MSU 15. Chased by a host of Buckeyes, he was able to recover the ball and sprint to his left, getting off a hurried 37-yard punt.
Ohio State had won the last seven meetings and 12 of 14. The Spartans' last win in Columbus came over the top-ranked and unbeaten team in 1998, 28-24.