Redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne sat down in the post-game press conference in the bowels of the Hard Rock Stadium and took the blame for the first half miscommunications with receivers early on and refused to talk badly about the offensive line that gave up two sacks on the first two possessions.
He did not talk about his own performance after battling through early adversity to throw four touchdowns to lead the Michigan State offense to another 30+ point outing to crush Miami and move to 3-0.
Thorne talked about the speed and route running of Jalen Nailor, the excellence and playmaking of Kenneth Walker III and the performance of the offensive line in the second half. Even off the field, Thorne focused on putting his teammates in the spotlight, like he did all Saturday afternoon in Hard Rock Stadium.
“I know on one of 'em, I didn't give him a great ball,” Thorne said, talking about miscommunications with Nailor in the first half. “I just didn't have a good grip on the ball honestly. He played well today. I know he had a lot of good things that he did and that goes for a lot of guys on the offense.”
Don’t let Thorne’s attitude confuse you: he played one of his best games in a Spartan uniform Saturday. He was 18-31 for 261 yards and four touchdowns and zero turnovers. The offense did not lose a step after its first touchdown drive late in the second half and Thorne was the catalyst.
Time and time again, Thorne stood in the face of pressure to make a big throw or took matters into his own hands and extended drives with scrambles. He did what he needed to do to make sure MSU’s offense could stay on the field and the dynamic playmakers like Walker and Nailor could make the plays that broke Miami’s defense.
Thorne said he did not have a single designed run for him besides the quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter that ended up being the dagger. He ran the ball eight times for a total of four yards but ran for 26 yards on five attempts that didn't result in sacks.
“I thought it was a good little kind of something else that they can see, being on the run and go get a couple first downs,” Thorne said. “I don't think I had any today that were totally designed. So they were just scrambles today. But sometimes you see a crease and sometimes the throwing lane isn't always there, so sometimes you just gotta tuck it and run it.”
Thorne did not force the issue with his legs but when he took off, he made it count. Of his five scrambles, three of them were for first downs, including two on the touchdown drive that put MSU up 14, cementing the win for the Spartans.
That has been the story with Thorne through the first quarter of Michigan State’s season; making plays when it matters most and not killing the team’s momentum with backbreaking turnovers. The choice of Thorne over graduate student Anthony Russo has shown to be the right move and Michigan State's offense has blossomed because of it.
Thorne has not yet had a turnover this season, the first time a Michigan State quarterback has done that through three games since 2013 when then-sophomore quarterback Connor Cook did it in his first year as the starter.
Thorne still has plenty of steps to take to become the same dominant force as Cook was for Michigan State, but the signs are there for Thorne to become the next great quarterback in green and white.
Thorne has shown that he has the depth of understanding to make sure MSU is never in a bad spot and has a cerebral understanding of the game to know when to take over himself or step back and set up the other stars on the offense.
He knows how to adjust to what he is seeing on the field like he did Saturday and the natural arm talent to couple with his innate understanding of what the team wants to do on offense to become an elite college quarterback.
He is not there yet, but he hasn’t had to be for Michigan State to be one of the most explosive offenses in college football so far this year. He has done what he needs to do, like a true field general that understands the game at a deeper level.
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