Michigan State QBs Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi talk about the loss to Ohio State. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Rocky Lombardi, sighed, took a long pause, and decided after a few seconds he’d pass on the question he was just asked.
It was just after Ohio State (No. 10 CFP, No. 8 AP) had beaten Michigan State (No. 18 CFP, No. 24 AP), 26-6, at Spartan Stadium on Saturday in another game where the Spartans’ offense couldn’t get anything going. It was also another game where the Michigan State coaching staff was going back and forth on quarterbacks.
Junior Brian Lewerke started but struggled, as he has most of the season but even more so since injuring his right shoulder in the Penn State game. Late in the second quarter, Lombardi came in and led the Spartans to their only scoring drive of the first half when Matt Coghlin kicked a 44-yard field goal.
Lombardi was back as the second half started, but after two straight fumbles to open the fourth quarter, Lewerke was back and went the rest of the way, though the offense still went nowhere.
In the postgame interviews, Lombardi talked about the frustrations of the offense, his performance and where he needs to get better. Then, he was asked if he was surprised he got pulled.
The long pause followed.
“I’m not gonna talk about that,” Lombardi said. “Sorry.”
Lombardi likely doesn’t have a clear idea on where he stands because it doesn’t sound like anyone else has a clear idea, including Lewerke.
Lewerke is still not 100 percent and won’t be without longer rest, but he wants to play. But even he realized at some point on Saturday that Lombardi might be the better option considering he could make all the throws.
“I know I can't make some throws that I want to with how my arm is right now,” said Lewerke, who has contemplated shutting things down this season. “Just trying to give Rocky a chance because his arm is a lot stronger and ready to go.”
It’s tough for Lewerke, who has started 24 games in his career. However, the Spartans decided to start him for the second straight week after Lombardi started in the win over Purdue.
“I'll defer that to Coach Dantonio,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “We talk about it throughout the week, obviously. It's a staff decision but it still comes down to the head coach.”
Whether that decision stays the same the rest of the way is tough to say.
Lewerke said he has no doubt he’ll be fine with extended time off, saying that would be possible by the time the Spartans play in a bowl game.
Until then, however, the uncertainty continues, as it did on Saturday. But after a second straight fumble when Lombardi pitched it high to La’Darius Jefferson, Dantonio made another move.
“I thought Rocky was hot initially in the second half,” Dantonio said. “I thought he had some situations coming off the end zone and again it goes back to our inability to run the ball consistently, so we're throwing it out of the end zone, and first of all I thought he missed some targets. I just felt like he had the pitch on the back shoulder of the tailback on the back option. He had not hit some passes. He also had the fumble in the end zone where there was a miscommunication.
“I felt like, we've got to try and swing it up again, create some more motion and try and go back the other direction. … It is what it is, but I thought we played the quarterback situation as well as we could have with respect to both quarterbacks.”
Lewerke finished 11-for-28 for 128 yards and an interception while Lombardi was 7-for-20 for 92 yards while running for 49 yards.
As Michigan State (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) heads to Nebraska next week, the carousel could continue.
“That’s fine,” Lewerke said. “I’m all for (Lombardi). I know he is a great quarterback, too. Whichever one it is, me or him. Whichever gives us the best chance to win we should go with.”