Michigan State Football: Why Payton Thorne should be QB1

Payton Thorne, Michigan State football Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Payton Thorne, Michigan State football Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

Rocky Lombardi has started all four games at quarterback, but is he really Michigan State football’s best option as QB1?

After a poor performance against Iowa, Rocky Lombardi was set to start the last Saturday against Indiana. After two interceptions, Mel Tucker and Jay Johnson decided to make the change and put in redshirt freshman Payton Thorne.

Coming into the season, Rocky had completed only 43 percent of his passes on 175 attempts. Also, he had five interceptions to only three touchdowns.

Although those numbers aren’t the best, Lombardi has shown improvement over the season. In the first two games of the year, Lombardi threw for 642 yards and six touchdowns.

But that last two games has been a very rocky road, pun maybe intended.

Lombardi has struggled to move the ball down the field and the number prove it. Five interceptions, zero touchdowns and only 248 yards the past two games sum up Lombardi’s performance.

A terrible run game, an offensive line that is inconsistent and poor decision making has led to the struggling offense.

When Lombardi got pulled in the second quarter versus Iowa, Thorne immediately provided life to the Spartan offense. His first play he kept the ball on a zone read that ended up gaining 38 yards.

Thorne ended up posting a stat line of 10-for-20 for 110 yards and an interception. There was some bad, but he also showed some flashes.

On second down and long, Thorne dropped a ball in between two defenders to complete a 15-yard pass to Tyler Hunt. It was a beautiful throw that showed off his ability to combine touch and accuracy.

One thing Thorne does that separates him from the rest is his decision making. Greg McElroy made a great point on the ESPN broadcast Saturday. When Thorne threw his lone interception, it was a good decision. Thorne simply had a high release that eventually led to a ball that sailed over the receiver’s head. The point McElroy made was that Thorne made a good decision, but a physical limitation led to an interception. You can live with that. When you make a poor decision that leads to a turnover, it’s tough to live with and something that a coaching staff has a hard time seeing.

Now Thorne by no means was perfect. He took a couple sacks where he could’ve thrown the ball away, and on fourth down he took a sack. Some throws were not on point, but at the end of the day he gave Michigan State a pulse on offense.

Lombardi as a redshirt junior still makes lackluster decisions and misses wide outs on intermediate throws.

When I see Thorne, a much younger quarterback, there’s much more potential. He is just scratching the surface of quarterback with plenty of upside.

The sky is the limit for a young, athletic quarterback who has the ability make good decisions. That is why he needs to be playing quarterback for the rest of the season.

Given the fact that the Spartans are currently 1-3, hopes of a bowl berth are low. The point of emphasis now is to build for the future, and most Spartan fans do not see Lombardi when they think future.

Sticking with Thorne means growing pains and freshman mistakes, but these games will pay dividends when he’s an upperclassman making a potential run for a Big Ten title.

Rocky beat Michigan on their own turf and his toughness, leadership and intangibles will always be beloved by Michigan State fans. Given that, it’s time to move on and let the young gun sling the rock and build for the future.

Quarterback is the most important position in football, and the development of Thorne will be crucial to the progress of Tucker in East Lansing, so why not start now?

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