Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Halftime thoughts: MSU 21, Penn State 10, Payton Thorne shines in 1st start

December 12, 2020
<p>Redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins (24) extends a stiff arm during the game against Penn State Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.</p>

Redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins (24) extends a stiff arm during the game against Penn State Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Payton Thorne's first career start was off to a shaky beginning.

The redshirt freshman's first drive against Penn State started with a penalty, was ended by an interception, saved by Jaquan Brisker's fumble and ended with a punt.

Then, he put great touch on a Jalen Nailor post route up the middle of the field for 45 yards and the Spartans took the lead in the second quarter with 13:56 left to play in the first half.

After, he put a pass on a rope to 6-foot-7 Tre'Von Morgan, who snatched the ball out of the air to give the Spartans a 14-10 lead with 6:24 to play in the first half.

So the battle for the Land Grant Trophy has started as kind of a roller coaster.

Some thoughts at halftime:

Thorne's rough start becomes a great one by halftime

The redshirt-freshman, who is the son of coaches and by all accounts, a great intellectual quarterback, finished the half after his interception with 11-of-13 passing for 202 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.

Capitalized by what was really a busted coverage by Penn State that allowed Nailor's easy touchdown, Thorne was able to lead the Spartans to a halftime lead.

Thorne's first start, which seemed likely to come this Saturday after Rocky Lombardi was injured in the Spartans 52-12 loss to Ohio State, was a roller coaster early but his connection with receivers Jayden Reed and Nailor will be a key for the MSU offense going forward on the season.

Lombardi didn't dress for the game and Thorne shined, so it may be obvious who the starting quarterback should be for head coach Mel Tucker going forward.

Penn State able to establish the run game early

One of the keys to the game was going to be who could run the football. Penn State ran for 200+ yards against Michigan and Rutgers in consecutive weeks and utilized true freshman Keyvone Lee a lot early on in the first half. While Lee may be one of the best freshmen running backs in the Big Ten - he had almost 100 yards against Rutgers and 136 against Michigan two weeks earlier - PSU was able to run freely with quarterbacks Sean Clifford and Will Levis.

Clifford scampered for a 31-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw, Levis consistently converted on 3rd down against an MSU defense that has been a bright spot at times this season.

While MSU linebackers Antjuan Simmons, who checked out of the game in the second quarter with an unknown injury, and Noah Harvey combined for 11 stops in the first half, PSU's offensive line was able to control the line of scrimmage and average 4.1 yards per carry.

Turnovers likely to determine the outcome

MSU's first drive was saved by a Penn State defender's fumble and MSU hung onto the football for the rest of half.

That is an area that the Spartans have struggled in all season.

So, hanging on to the football, which killed MSU in a 40-point loss to Ohio State, was a key early on. Both teams after their initial turnovers hung on to the ball - so whoever blinks first is going to determine who wins.

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