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First-half observations: Payton Thorne gets into a rhythm, MSU rolling

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Thorne on target

Payton Thorne got his first career start and it didn’t exactly start very well. His first pass of the game was intercepted but he got a break when Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker fumbled the ball right back to the Spartans. It took another drive before Thorne truly settled in, however, and when Michigan State got the ball to begin the second quarter, Thorne threw a pinpoint deep ball to Jalen Nailor that hit him in stride for a 45-yard touchdown.

Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne (10) throws a pass against Penn State during the second quarter.

From there, Thorne kept on rolling, hitting Tre’Von Morgan for a 26-yard score then Nailor for a 7-yard touchdown. He was 11-for-13 for 202 yards in the first half, his best numbers of the year. It’s fair to ask – how has he not been starting all season?

Big stop

Michigan State’s defense has played hard most of the season, but the big play got them early in the second quarter. After the Spartans had taken the lead on Thorne’s pass to Nailor, a stop could have been big for Michigan State. Instead, Penn State got a good kick return to its 39 then marched down the field with ease, taking the lead back on quarterback Sean Clifford’s 31-yard run with 10 minutes left in the half.

It was a chance for the defense to back up a big play by the offense and build some momentum. Instead, the Spartans quickly found themselves trailing once again, a position they’ve been in most of the season. But the defense redeemed itself later in the second quarter, forcing a punt that the offense took advantage of, extending its lead to 21-10 late in the half.

Morgan's big grab

How about a 26-yard reception in traffic for a touchdown as your first career catch? Not bad, eh? Well, that’s exactly what happened for Morgan, the redshirt freshman, who hauled in the pass from Thorne with 6:24 left in the second quarter to put Michigan State ahead, 14-10.

The 6-foot-7 Morgan missed all of last season with an injury and has seen limited playing time this season. In fact, that was his first snap on Saturday and it proved to be a big one. Keep an eye on him moving forward as a red-zone weapon.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau