Lewerke or Lombardi? MSU starting QB still a toss-up
East Lansing — Mark Dantonio might already know who he plans on starting at quarterback this week.
However, the Michigan State coach wasn’t offering any hints as Michigan State prepared for Saturday’s trip to Nebraska where it will take on the Cornhuskers at noon at Memorial Stadium.
“We make decisions. As we go forward those decisions become complicated at times, but we do the very best we can and everybody is involved,” Dantonio said. “I don't really think it's in this team's best interest to air those decisions prior to football games. I think that's something that needs to be kept in house for everybody's best benefit. So that's how I handle those things.”
Dantonio, of course, is referring to how he’s handling the decision to start either junior Brian Lewerke or redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi. Lewerke is still listed on the depth chart as Michigan State’s No. 1 quarterback, but whether he is under center at kickoff in Nebraska remains the biggest question surrounding the team.
Lewerke has been battling an injury to his right throwing shoulder since the Penn State game on Oct. 13. He has not thrown the ball well and has admitted after the last two games that he still has pain at times, even suggesting Lombardi would have a better chance at making all the necessary throws during last week’s loss to Ohio State.
It would seem like a simple decision to go with Lombardi, but for coach Mark Dantonio, it’s not that easy.
“As you go through things and you go through practice, you're trying to watch practice and watch and see if guys can make the plays, and there is a base foundation for everybody,” Dantonio said. “I've always tried to be the coach that's going to, No. 1, protect our quarterback. Hopefully physically as much as we can from a protection standpoint and play-calling, things of that nature, and secondly from an emotional standpoint, public standpoint.
“I'm going to stay with the quarterback that has brought us a certain amount of level of success. I think that's warranted to do that.”
In each of the last two games — a win at Maryland and last week’s loss at home to Ohio State — Lewerke struggled throwing the ball and was replaced by Lombardi. He returned to the Ohio State game in the fourth quarter but didn’t fare much better.
Against Maryland, Lewerke was 11-for-20 passing for 87 yards and against Ohio State he was 11-for-28 for 128 yards. In each game, he threw an interception.
“You get to a point in the game and see how things are playing out you may have to alter your decisions,” Dantonio said. “That’s what you try and do. I don’t want to be led in that direction by fans or media. I’m gonna make the decisions on what I think is best.”
So far, that has meant going with a quarterback who has admitted he’s not 100 percent.
“Wise is a tough word to use. Is it wise?” Dantonio said. “I do the best I can to make good decisions which help us win football games.
“I thought he could fit it in tight windows. I thought he had velocity. Is he injured or his he hurt? He’s probably hurt more than injured. But who’s not hurt at this point in the season, a little bit? Some guys play through a little bit of pain and that’s what he’s tried to do and should be applauded for that.”
The start against Purdue was Lombardi’s first and he excelled, throwing for 318 yards and two touchdowns. He threw only two passes against Maryland and when he came in late in the first half last week, he led the Spartans to their first scoring drive.
Early in the second half against Ohio State, Lombardi led another drive that ended in a field goal, but after two straight fumbles, he was replaced by Lewerke.
Neither quarterback was made available after practice on Tuesday — the only time during the week media is allowed to interview players.
Their teammates say the uncertainty hasn’t been an issue.
“Those two guys are really close together,” fifth-year senior tight end Matt Sokol said. “I’ve been happy to see how they each collaborate, help each other out, want to see the other succeed. … We all have trust in both of them, have faith in both of them. Our whole team knows each of those guys are great players and have little different skillset than the other, but they’re two great players, great quarterbacks, and we know we’ll play our butt off for them.”
Added sophomore wide receiver Cody White, “Whoever is in for us we know we’re gonna make plays for them. So, whichever guys is in is the one we’re gonna rock with.”