Monday, November 29, 2021

Michigan State offense hits rock bottom, Payton Thorne steps in

November 14, 2020
MSU quarterback, Payton Thorne (10) photographed during a game against Indiana University on Nov. 14, 2020.
MSU quarterback, Payton Thorne (10) photographed during a game against Indiana University on Nov. 14, 2020. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

Michigan State seemingly couldn’t get out of their own way on Saturday in a loss against the Indiana Hoosiers.

For the first time since 1985 against Michigan, Michigan State was held scoreless at home, losing 24-0.

After the Michigan State defense forced a turnover and a punt on Indiana’s two opening drives, Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi rolled out of the pocket and threw into double coverage for an interception.

Indiana capitalized, 7-0.

The next drive, Michigan State running back Anthony Williams fumbled the ball in Indiana’s redzone.

Indiana capitalized, 14-0.

Michigan State cornerback Shakur Brown hauled in his second interception of the day to start the second quarter as Indiana looked to score inside their redzone. The following play, Lombardi threw again into double coverage for an interception.

Indiana capitalized, 17-0.

The offense couldn’t get out of it’s own way.

“We’re inconsistent,” Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker said following the loss. “We’re inconsistent with the both guys in there. We had efficient plays and then we were inefficient. We’ll know more when we look at the tape tonight.”

Due to the mental errors that plagued the Spartans, Tucker decided to bench Lombardi.

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“We thought it was the decision making in the first half, so Payton (Thorne) was the next man up,” Tucker said. “So we gave him an opportunity, it was as simple as that. We’ll look at the film and we’ll evaluate it more, then we’ll see what we need to do going forward. There’s no position set in stone on this team, quarterback position or any other.”

To try and create a spark, the offense turned to redshirt freshman quarterback Payton Thorne. On his first play, Thorne kept the ball on a read option play and picked up 38 yards, which would account for nearly half of Michigan State’s offense in the first half.

“It was a pull-read, we had good blocking on the perimeter and good blocking inside, so I just tucked it and ran,” Thorne said. "Nice blocking by our receivers to give me an opportunity to get downfield.”

Thorne would continue to show flashes of potential throughout the game with his legs. Backed up into his own endzone, Thorne had Hoosier defenders on his tail as he rolled out of the pocket to find his checkdown Elijah Collins who would get the Spartans some breathing room out to their own 22. Rushing up to the line of scrimmage, Thorne would find his former high school, teammate Jayden Reed to get near midfield.

Despite the strong start to the drive, the Spartans could not convert on a second fourth down opportunity, and turned the ball over on downs at the Hoosiers’ 38.

The following drive for the Spartans saw more of the same as Thorne sprinted out of the pocket as he found Reed near midfield. One offsides penalty and a run play of little gain later saw Thorne sail his pass over his target tight end Trenton Gillison for Thorne’s first turnover in his Spartan career.

“The interception I’d love to have back,” Thorne said. “That thing just came out of my hand high. I’d like to have that one back obviously.”

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Thorne would finish the game with 10 completions on 20 attempts, 110 yards and one interception on the day along with 25 yards on the ground after taking a few sacks.

“It was nice to get in there and get some real action and be able to move the ball around a little bit,” Thorne said. “Wish I had played a little better today, but it was nice to get out there and get some snaps.”

Thorne said that he was assisted by Lombardi once he replaced him in the game and is looking forward to working with him more.

“He’s a great guy and I know that he was trying to help me on the sidelines,” Thorne said. “As we move forward, all of us want to play. Ultimately, it’s not up to us who plays, it’s up to coach. I know we’ll both show up everyday and be ready to work and put our best foot forward.”

The run game continued to show no signs of life throughout the game, only racking up 60 rushing yards total. 

“We have to figure out what we can do with the guys that we have, and when the holes are there we have to hit them,” Tucker said. “If they’re not there, then we have to figure out why and can we run those plays or do we have to come up with something else? At the end of the day, it’s a very simple game. You can only scheme your way so much in a run game.”

The offensive line was not much help either as it continued to shuffle around and allowed four sacks on the day and seven total tackles for loss.

Michigan State’s next scheduled game is against Maryland, but that matchup is currently up in the air as Maryland recently pulled out of their game against Ohio State this weekend after several players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19

“We’re expecting to play them,” Tucker said. “I don’t know what their situation is and why they’re playing or why they’re not playing, but we’re going to be prepared to play. As long as we can meet the thresholds in terms of players available and COVID numbers that are set forth with the Big Ten. As long as we can stay within those numbers and fill a team, we’re going to play. We’re going to prepare to play until we're told differently. We need football."

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