The importance of a strong performance and victory in the Peach Bowl for Michigan State’s future is not lost on Payton Thorne.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback and team captain said he took it upon himself to remind the team after practice today that a win in the Peach Bowl can serve as another foundational block to build the program into a perennial national power and send the seniors out on the right note.
“I just said that a bowl game like this doesn't come around every single year,” Thorne said. “Not everybody can say that they played in a bowl game like this and to win a bowl game like this is something you can take with you and build on. We're not satisfied with just getting here, we're not satisfied with just winning this in terms of down the road but to send your seniors out the right way and win a New Year's Six Bowl.”
The Peach Bowl is the final opportunity for Michigan State’s offense to further cement themselves as one of the greatest Spartan offenses of all time. Thorne believes a win would not only put a cap on a successful offense for the group he leads, but it’ll provide a foundation for the future as well.
The extra game allows Thorne and the Michigan State offense to write their names in the Spartan football history books. Thorne currently ranks sixth in passing yards in a season (2,886) and second in touchdowns (24) and only needs to throw two touchdowns to pass Kirk Cousins for the record. The offense already holds the school record for points per game (31.4) and yards per game (431.9) and needs another solid performance against Pittsburgh to maintain those records.
“(We're) looking to close the year out the right way and send our seniors out the right way as well,” Thorne said. “And then also gain momentum moving in the next year. I think that we have shown a lot of progress from last year to this year and really, from the last few years, honestly, offensively. We're looking to build on that this week on Thursday and finish the year out the right way. And then we'll be able to take a look at the season in full in the weeks coming and look at areas we can improve for next year and what kind of players we got coming back for next year.”
Thorne has been a vocal leader and the face of the offense alongside backfield companion junior running back Kenneth Walker III. But now without Walker, who opted out of the Peach Bowl to declare for the 2022 NFL draft, Thorne has to step up to be an even stronger leader on and off the field for MSU’s offense.
This increased role is not a burden for Thorne, senior tight end Connor Heyward said. He believes that the first-year starter has become the voice MSU’s offense has needed throughout the year and will continue to get stronger as a leader on and off the field.
“He's a poised player,” Heyward said. “He's a leader. He takes control of the offense and when guys aren't doing what they need to do, he's not scared to confront. And we have a head coach like that, the quarterback kind of follows and falls under that.”
It’s no secret that bowl games in the past have served as a stepping stone to stronger recruiting classes and attention for a program, especially a team trending in the right direction like Michigan State. After three straight BCS/New Year’s Six bowl appearances from 2013 to 2015, MSU brought in three top 30 recruiting classes in the following years, marking the strongest stretch of recruiting in program history.
The goal is to do something similar under second-year Head Coach Mel Tucker. Michigan State has already secured a top-25 recruiting class for 2022 and is looking to ride a wave of momentum into the offseason with a victory against Pittsburgh Thursday night.
The underclassmen are not the only ones that see the Peach Bowl as an opportunity to build for the future. Senior center Matt Allen said the Peach Bowl is his final opportunity to play for the team he grew up loving and wants to do whatever he can to leave the program in a good spot moving forward without him and his fellow graduating seniors.
“I would say the main thing behind that is really my goal when I came here was just to leave my jersey in a better place than where I started,” Allen said. “And hopefully, I think I've done that … I have a lot of confidence in this team, a lot of confidence in coach Tucker and his staff, and I know they're going to do great things in the future.”
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