Notebook: Michigan State's quarterback situation thrown into uncertainty
East Lansing — After the first two games of the season, it looked like Michigan State had its quarterback.
Two weeks later and things seem far from certain.
Fourth-year junior Rocky Lombardi threw two more interceptions during a 24-0 loss to No. 10 Indiana on Saturday and was pulled from the game early in the second quarter in favor of redshirt freshman Payton Thorne. While the young quarterback fared a bit better, the Spartans still were unable to put any points on the board and Thorne threw his first interception, as well.
“We were inconsistent with both guys in there,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “We have some efficient plays and then we were inefficient. We'll know more when we look at the tape tonight.”
The tape looked pretty good on Lombardi through two games. Even though he was intercepted three times in the loss to Rutgers, Lombardi had thrown for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of the first two games as the Spartans moved the ball in spite of a running game that has found little to no traction.
But after two interceptions last week at Iowa and two more through a little more than a quarter on Saturday, Tucker decided it was time to make a move.
“We thought it was some decision-making early in the game in the first half and then Payton was the next man up, so we gave him an opportunity,” Tucker said. “It was as simple as that. We'll look at the film and we'll evaluate it more and we'll see what we need to do moving forward. But there's no position set in stone on this team, quarterback or any other.”
Lombardi won the preseason battle for the starting quarterback spot, even as Thorne was clearly making progress in his second year in the program.
Things started well for Thorne as he scampered 38 yards on his first play from scrimmage.
“It was nice to get in there and get hit on that first play,” Thorne said. “You hear a lot of people talk about the first time you get hit it kind of turns real. I haven't been tackled in a while, so getting tackled like that kind of woke me up and got me ready to go.”
Thorne finished 10-for-20 for 110 yards with one interception, a pass in the fourth quarter that sailed on him as he tried to hit tight end Trenton Gillison.
“Obviously the interception I'd love to have back,” Thorne said. “It just came out of my hand high. I'd like to add that one back, obviously, and then I'm sure there are a couple that I’ll look back on film and see that there was probably someone open at some point. I think that we’ve got good receivers that can get open for us, and it's my job to get it to them. So, got to be better.”
Thorne, who played in high school in Naperville, Illinois, with wide receivers Jayden Reed and Cade McDonald said the work they did in the summer helped him prepare for his first action. Thorne credited Lombardi, as well, for helping him on the sideline on Saturday.
Whether that means Thorne will get another shot next week at Maryland remains to be seen, but he said he’ll keep practicing the same way he has.
“The preparation won't change,” Thorne said. “I've been making sure to try to prepare like I'm playing because you really never know as the backup when that time is gonna come. So, the preparation won't change. I'm gonna do everything I can to be ready and have the guys around me ready. Who’s gonna take snaps? That's not up to me. I'm just going to come ready every day and be ready to play.”
Injuries stack up
Injuries have started to mount for Michigan State and they hit the secondary especially hard against Indiana.
The Spartans were without three opening-day starters as cornerback Chris Jackson misses his second straight game and was joined on the sidelines by cornerback Kalon Gervin and safety Tre Person. Person was hurt late last week at Iowa but there was no update given on Gervin, other than Tucker mentioning the Spartans trying to adjust without him.
That left only safety Xavier Henderson and cornerback Shakur Brown to pick up the slack as senior Dominique Long started at cornerback, sophomore Michael Dowell jumped in at safety and freshman Angelo Grose got his first start at nickel back.
“Guys are getting out there and getting plays,” Tucker said. “We're seeing what they can do, and we're working to teach, motivate and develop those guys. At times, it was tight covers, and at times it wasn't tight enough. So we'll look to be more consistent in that regard.”
After being limited because of injury last week, senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons was all over the field on Saturday. He recorded a career-high 14 tackles and has now had double-digit stops in three of four games, recording 11 tackles in each of the first two games of the season.
While Simmons wasn’t happy with the loss, he did like the fact the defense pitched a shutout in the second half.
“We played good in the second half, and I think throughout the entirety of the game,” Simmons said. “I think we just need to go back to the drawing board, figure out our mistakes, what we were doing on the field to give up those three touchdowns. But other than that, I am content with the way we played in the second half.”
In addition to the injuries in the secondary, Michigan State was once again without offensive lineman Luke Campbell and Matt Allen as well as tight end Matt Dotson and wide receiver Tre Mosley.
… Freshman linebacker Cal Haladay was called for targeting in the first half and was ejected.