And it's becoming clearer why he's the unquestioned emotional leader of a 10-1 football team playing for a Big Ten title Saturday at Penn State.
Cousins went down twice and stayed down in last week's 35-31 comeback win over Purdue. A sprained left shoulder was aggravated the first time, and a sprained left ankle the second time. The ankle, Cousins revealed after the game, had been bothering him for weeks and contributed to his increasing tendency to throw off his back foot.
This came to light when Cousins was asked if it's true that some of his off-the-mark throws were the result of waning confidence.
"No, that's not correct," he said. "There's definitely a footwork problem when you have a sprained ankle. I can't plant my leg and pivot off it without, basically, excruciating pain. So I have to play with flat feet, basically, and that makes it very tough to play a Big Ten team, a Big Ten defense with an amazing pass rusher when you have basically one ankle."
The first-quarter hit to the shoulder earned Cousins a trip to the locker room for an injection of painkiller. Backup Andrew Maxwell played one series, then Cousins returned. After Cousins' ankle was twisted, he said he seriously considered pulling himself from the game because he thought he might be a detriment on the field.
But Cousins got an injection in his ankle at halftime. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for the winning score in the second half, earning more respect in the process.
"I've got to say, he's pretty tough," Michigan State senior linebacker Eric Gordon said of Cousins. "I thought Maxwell would be out there the rest of the game."
"Personally, I never doubted him," senior linebacker Greg Jones said.
The question now is whether Cousins can keep himself together physically in Saturday's potential title-clincher at Penn State.
--Although Michigan State is playing for at least a share of the Big Ten title Saturday at Penn State, a trip to the Rose Bowl is a long shot. The Spartans are tied with Wisconsin and Ohio State for first place, and Michigan State beat Wisconsin and didn't play Ohio State. But since not all three teams played, head-to-head is dropped in a three-way tie, and BCS rankings become the determining factor.
The Spartans are third in that regard. If Michigan somehow pulls off a huge upset Saturday at Ohio State, though, the Spartans would get the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin by virtue of the head-to-head victory. So Michigan State fans are saying "Go Blue" on Saturday.
--This Michigan State senior class became the winningest in school history with its 32nd win Saturday. That broke a tie with the 1990 seniors who won the Spartans' last Big Ten title in their final season. It should be noted that in the Spartans' glory days of the 1950s and 1960s, players were only eligible to play for three seasons, so their win totals are three-year totals.
--Sophomore RB Edwin Baker ran 16 times for 90 yards against Purdue, giving him 1,069 for the season. He is just the sixth sophomore in Michigan State history to rush for 1,000 yards. Baker has emerged as the clear top back for the Spartans, with freshman Le'Veon Bell and sophomore Larry Caper getting spot work in the past two games.
SERIES HISTORY: Penn State leads Michigan State 14-12-1 (last meeting, 2009, 42-14 Penn State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The rushing game didn't exceed 100 yards against Purdue, but that was largely a product of the Spartans coming back from a big deficit and abandoning the run. Edwin Baker is running well, and the Spartans will try to stay balanced against Penn State.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Michigan State has 16 picks this season after collecting six in 13 games a year ago. Still, the Spartans' secondary made some glaring mistakes that allowed Purdue to get big plays and touchdowns. The lack of a pass rush did not help.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are playing for a championship, that's something special. Ten wins is something special. We've talked for a long time about leaving a legacy here in our time that we have here. We're just dust passing through, as coach (Mark) Dantonio says, and when we pass through, we want to leave something people remember. We've got a chance to do that (this) Saturday." -- Michigan State junior QB Kirk Cousins.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan State at Penn State, Nov. 27 -- The Spartans are looking to win in State College for the first time since 1965. Michigan State is 0-8 at Beaver Stadium since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993. This appears to be a great opportunity to break the streak, although Penn State is playing better since a midseason swoon.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Penn State's rushing attack has struggled for much of this season despite the presence of all-time leading rusher Evan Royster. The Spartans need to help those struggles continue, while protecting QB Kirk Cousins on the other side of the ball.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DE Colin Neely -- The senior and Pennsylvania native would love to win a championship in his home state. When he plays well, the Spartans' run defense benefits.
WR Keshawn Martin -- Out since early in the Oct. 23 game against Northwestern with a foot injury, Martin returned last week against Purdue and showed plenty of burst. His presence gives Michigan State's offense more flexibility and punch.
CB Johnny Adams -- The sophomore suffered coverage busts and committed a costly late hit in the comeback win over Purdue. He has played well for most of this season and needs to return quickly to form.
TE Brian Linthicum -- Realistically, Linthicum won't return to his 2009 form until he can rest a knee in nagging pain. But he got involved against Purdue and still provides a decent receiving threat for Kirk Cousins.
--Sophomore DT Blake Treadwell is expected back and 100 percent effective after the flu kept him out of the Purdue game. Treadwell's presence is key in Michigan State's efforts to stop the Penn State rushing attack.
--Senior RT J'Michael Deane went down late in the Purdue game with an undisclosed injury, but he is expected to be ready for Penn State.
--Senior LB Eric Gordon will set a school record Saturday with his 48th career start. He is tied with former Michigan State tight end Chris Baker (1998-2001). Gordon already has started more games at linebacker than any Spartan in history, with Dan Bass second at 44 starts from 1976-79.