Payton Thorne to start at QB for Michigan State against Maryland; Brown's status uncertain

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Payton Thorne will be Michigan State’s starting quarterback for at least another week.

Spartans coach Mel Tucker said on Tuesday the redshirt freshman will start in Saturday’s game at Maryland, the final game of the season for Michigan State.

Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne will start Saturday at Maryland.

In last week’s loss at Penn State, Thorne got the call after redshirt junior Rocky Lombardi was unable to play because of an injury sustained the week before in the loss to Ohio State.

“Payton's gonna start this week and then hopefully Rocky will be available for us,” Tucker said during his weekly meeting with the media. “We just have to see how the week goes with him.”

Thorne had played well in relief twice earlier in the season, then had a record-setting day against the Nittany Lions, throwing for 325 yards and three touchdowns, both career bests for Thorne. His 325 passing yards were the most ever for a Michigan State quarterback in his first start, surpassing Ed Smith with 324 in 1976. It was also a freshman single-game record.

“I can tell you that he was poised and that he wasn't rattled,” Tucker said after the Penn State game. “He was into the game and he was aware the entire game, start to finish, even when we started slow. He was still there, and that's good to see. He had a good look in his eye and he was into the game.”

Thorne is 48-for-85 for 582 yards and three touchdowns this season, and has scored a rushing touchdown, as well.

Lombardi started each of the first six games, but was pulled in the second quarter of the loss to Indiana in favor of Thorne and was then knocked out of the Ohio State game in the second quarter. He made the trip last week to Penn State but was not available to play.

Lombardi is 84-for-157 for 1,090 yards and eight touchdowns, throwing for three touchdowns in each of the first two games this season. However, he’s been plagued by turnovers and has thrown nine interceptions.

The move allows Thorne to spend the entire week working with first team, something he said benefitted him at Penn State.

“Obviously, it’s a better scenario,” Thorne said on Saturday. “I think the best part of that is getting those reps during the week, and on Wednesday I was able to get the reps with the first group and get in sync with those guys. In the past I haven’t been getting a ton of reps with those guys and getting that going during the week helps a ton, being able to talk to them about what we’re seeing and what I’d like for them to do and same thing for them from me. I think that helped a lot.”

Brown's status uncertain

Tucker said he’d have a better idea of Shakur Brown's status later on Tuesday. The redshirt junior cornerback on Monday an nounced he was entering the NFL Draft.

“I'll talk to Shak today and see where he is in terms of playing the game,” Tucker said, “and we'll just go from there.”

The defensive backfield will be fairly thin on Saturday adding in the fact sophomore cornerback Julian Barnett last week entered the transfer portal. Sophomore Kalon Gervin and freshman Angelo Grose will get plenty of work while senior Dominique Long could see his share of playing time, as well.

Tucker was asked if there are any other players planning to opt out of Saturday’s game at Maryland.

“It could happen,” Tucker said. “You don’t know. Every year this time of year, these discussions, they start weeks ago and so you just have to see how it goes throughout the week and things like that. It’s a pretty normal occurrence and guys are making decisions on what they think is in their best interest.”

Tucker on bowl games: 'I want to play'

With schedules around the nation thrown for a loop, the bowl season is going to look much different, as well. Already, 11 bowl games have been canceled because of COVID-19, including four with Big Ten tie-ins. And with win minimums thrown out this season, any team is eligible.

The best Michigan State could do is 3-5 if it wins at Maryland on Saturday, and that’s a longshot to earn a berth somewhere. Still, if the Spartans got a bid, Tucker would be all for it.

“If we were asked to play, I would love to play,” Tucker said. “I want to play, I want to practice, want to compete, get more practice time with our guys and keep developing our guys and just seeing how far we can take this team and what this team can become before we turn the page to our offseason conditioning program leading up to spring ball.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau