Column: Lombardi's performance vs. Purdue shows promising future, but Lewerke's still the guy
Going into Saturday’s game against Purdue, nobody knew if starting quarterback Brian Lewerke (unknown right-shoulder injury) or backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi would get the start.
Lombardi got the nod and he performed, going 26-of-46 for 318 yards — the most by a Michigan State quarterback making his first career start since Ed Davis threw for 324 yards at NC State in 1976 — and two touchdowns in the Spartans’ (5-3, 3-2 in Big Ten) 23-13 win against the Boilermakers (4-4, 3-2).
Lombardi said he didn’t even know if he was going to start this week until last Friday night, as Lewerke is still fighting his unknown right-shoulder injury suffered against Penn State on Oct. 13.
“I prepared to start last week just like I do every other week, and I’ve talked about this before,” Lombardi said postgame Saturday. “I’m ready to go every time I step on that field. I’m confident in myself, in my teammates and in my ability to win.”
Even after Saturday, co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner admitted he and the rest of the coaching staff put Lewerke in a bad position against Michigan, and were second guessing their decision once he went 5-of-25 for 66 yards.
But this was because of how impressed Warner and other were with Lombardi’s preparation — especially since he’s only a redshirt freshman, and didn’t have wide receivers Felton Davis III (season-ending torn left Achilles) and Cody White (broken left hand).
“It was obvious right from the start and going all the way back to two weeks there was a possibility of him playing,” Warner said. “He prepared as if he was going to play, he did it again this week, he prepared nonstop all week long. Obviously, his performance was very good.”
However, an uproar for Lombardi to start over Lewerke the rest of the season has come from this, with fans even putting Lombardi’s face over Rocky Balboa.
While Lombardi’s performance was impressive, let’s not forget about Lewerke, who led the Spartans to a 10-3 record last season after MSU had its worst season in coach Mark Dantonio’s 12 years in 2016, going 3-9.
Yes, the junior from Phoenix hasn’t been too good this season, throwing 1,653 yards (7th among Big Ten quarterbacks) on a 56 completion percentage (9th) for 8 touchdowns (12th) and 7 interceptions (T-5th worst) in 7 games.
But Lewerke is a captain on this team — a leader who was elected by his peers, along with linebacker Joe Bachie and safety Khari Willis.
And while expectations were extremely high going into the season (including yours truly saying he could cement himself as the greatest Michigan State quarterback of all-time) and he hasn’t met them, Lewerke’s still the guy.
One game against a Purdue pass defense that was ranked 127th (296.4 yards per game) out of 129 FBS teams going into Saturday’s game won’t change who starts, given Lewerke isn’t going to be hampered much longer with his injury.
If it seems Lewerke will be harbored by his right-shoulder injury long-term, then let Lombardi play. No reason to further injure it when you can come back to East Lansing for one more season.
But until Dantonio or Lewerke finally decides to give us more details on the 6-foot-3, 220 pound quarterback’s injury — which they won’t unless it’s major or season-ending, because that’s how this program rolls — expect his injury to be short term.
And if is indeed a short-term injury, expect Lewerke to start against Maryland (5-3, 3-2) this Saturday (Noon on ESPN2).
However, if Saturday was any sign, the future does look bright for MSU with Lombardi once Lewerke graduates. And I’m not saying that because of his bleach-blonde hair.
“He is a workaholic,” Dantonio said. “He is a guy that actually comes in and breaks down the film, last year. When I say he breaks down the film he is in there breaking down the opposing team's film. What they call things, going through it meticulously. Not as a quarterback, but as almost like an analyst."
“He is that type of guy who is going to have those answers, but now is going to need to put those answers into play but he is going to know what to do.”