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Column: Payton Thorne's case to start and a clear message from Tucker post game

December 6, 2020
<p>OSU running back Miyan WIlliams (28) carries the ball, chased by MSU defensive end Jeff Pietrowski (47).</p>

OSU running back Miyan WIlliams (28) carries the ball, chased by MSU defensive end Jeff Pietrowski (47).

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

MSU football head coach Mel Tucker wasn't happy.

Tucker's message for his football program was clear after MSU fell 52-12 to No. 4 Ohio State a week after beating a top-10 Northwestern team at home.

"God knows we need to play so we can get better," Tucker said after the loss. "Find out what we can do, what we need to do moving forward, you know, we're working to build a team, building on a process and hammering a culture that'll allow us to have some consistency in performance."

Two things from Saturday are clear.

Alarmingly clear.

Mel Tucker's message to this football team and Payton Thorne's case to be the starting quarterback of it.

"I wanted to see us come back and have a consistent performance ... and I didn't see that," Tucker said. "Obviously we have a lot of work to do."

I was shocked that Michigan State gave up 52 points too.

The case to start Payton Thorne

I have been a proponent of Rocky Lombardi's all season. I thought he was the guy coming in and should've been even after his struggles against Indiana and Iowa. I felt affirmed when MSU beat Michigan and Northwestern and wasn't wrong.

But long term, it isn't the answer.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe the answer to the quarterback question is within the room right now.

But Thorne did something Lombardi didn't on Saturday. Lombardi is beloved by his teammates and a locker room leader but when he went down with an injury that Tucker said he didn't know the extent of, Thorne came in and immediately kick-started an offense on a train to nowhere down 28-0.

When asked about what he would bring if he starts, Thorne didn't give a lot.

"I think each player has his own skill set, you know, and it's up to the coaches, what they think, who they think has the best skill set to fit our offense," Thorne said. "So I'm gonna keep showing up and doing what I do and playing how I play and keep competing. That's all I know how to do and that's all I can do moving forward."

Well if he keeps playing how he played Saturday after coming in for an injured Lombardi, then he should be the starting quarterback for the MSU football team.

Thorne started 11-of-11 passing, but finished 5-of-15 after that, he had an interception but ran for a touchdown and led a field goal-scoring drive late.

It wasn't pretty and it wasn't good. But it was better.

He didn't give up when an offense down 28 points handed him the keys.

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"I think no matter what the score is you gotta keep fighting," Thorne said, on when he came into the game. "My dad actually has told me for the past few years, just kind of a fight one more round boxing analogy. It doesn't matter how bad you're getting beat in the face, obviously, we didn't get off to a very good start but you gotta keep fighting."

He led a struggling offense in its major categories with 142 passing yards and 43 on the ground. His ability to run and connection with MSU wideout and high school teammate Jayden Reed will likely be what drives this offense the rest of the season if the staff decides to make the switch to Thorne full time.

As he knifed into Ohio State's defenses for runs of 20 and 31 yards and for completion to Reed for 55, he showed he can do it.

A clear message from Tucker to his team and program

"I thought we played hard in spurts, but we need to play smarter. We need to be more consistent. I believe that once we figure out what it takes to be consistent on a day to day basis with our guys. Then we'll have better performance and we'll have the opportunity to beat good teams ... turnovers will kill you, as we know, not getting first downs, not being able to sustain drives, not being able to convert on third down. Those things and then not being able to run the ball, control the line of scrimmage, defensively being able to stop the run. We know we had an athletic quarterback that we needed to contain."

"We didn't do that."

"We knew we couldn't give up explosive plays in the run game and the passing game."

"We gave those up."

That was just part of Tucker's roughly 10-minute opening remarks to the media after Saturday's game.

He clearly was speaking his mind about a game that MSU got manhandled in and gave up 521 total yards of offense.

Whether it was the 41-yard touchdown pass to Ohio State's Chris Olave or the 64-yard run that Trey Sermon bounded in between would-be tacklers and scored on — or the zero yard pick-six by Haskell Garrett.

"Like I told the team afterward, the only thing that I know how to do is go immediately back to tape. See what happened and look to make the corrections," Tucker said.

This week, a week after MSU got its second win against maybe the best opponent it faced all season before Saturday, MSU again has to go back to the drawing board.

Linebacker Antjuan Simmons wasn't pleased either.

"Let a game like this marinate. If you're a younger guy coming back next year, really just soak it in," Simmons said. "You take a mental note of how this game turned out. What happened throughout the entirety of the game, you know, you let that marinate and you put that in the back of your memory."

Next Saturday against Penn State, MSU has a lot to play for. Or like Tucker said, "It'll be a long offseason."


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