Michigan State football grades: Spartans were bad in every way vs. Indiana
It took five drives and less than 5 minutes with the ball for quarterback Rocky Lombardi to get replaced by Payton Thorne. Two of Lombardi’s seven passes were interceptions on the first plays of drives that were thrown into double coverage, and he took a tunnel-vision sack to end a three-and-out possession and recovered his own fumble on a critical third-and-short on MSU’s first possession. Running back Anthony Williams Jr. also fumbled away the other time. The Spartans’ 21 yards with Lombardi under center coupled with his errors prompted the change. Thorne took over and showed more inconsistency. His 38-yard run on his first snap Saturday was MSU’s longest running play of the year, and he showed ability to avoid the rush while moving the offense to 170 yards. However, both were inconsistent and neither reached the end zone with a run game that generated just 60 yards.
MSU was down three starters in the secondary — cornerbacks Kalon Gervin and Chris Jackson and safety Tre Person. Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. tested Shakur Brown at all day, and the junior cornerback did have two interceptions while getting turned around and giving up a 65-yard TD pass to Ty Fryfogle. The Spartans gave up 320 passing yards to Penix, 200 of them with two TDs to Fryfogle. MSU continues to struggle at generating a pass rush, even though Indiana was without its starting left offensive guard and tackle. However, the Spartans did shut out the Hoosiers in the second half, and three of the four scoring drives MSU gave up were of 50 yards or less after turnovers.
Special teams: D
The Spartans got bit by their struggles on their punt unit that added to field position woes. Indiana had an 18-yard return from Reese Taylor, on which MSU’s Bryce Baringer again outkicked his coverage. Baringer also had a shank that went just 21 yards. There were some signs of life on MSU’s kick return game, but there also were two costly penalties — one a targeting call that got LB Cal Haladay ejected in the first half.
It took until the final possession last week for Tucker to replace Lombardi and just five drives Saturday when he saw the offense that had looked so good against Michigan devolve the past two weeks. Couple that with more questionable play-calling, including running Connor Heyward on fourth-and-2 in the third quarter after Thorne got the offense moving with his legs and arms. Issues that existed a week ago continue to persist, along with the inability to generate much running room. If Thorne is the QB going forward, it would make sense to install more read-options to add more of a run threat. But who gets the start in each of the final four games will be the first major personnel decision for the young staff moving forward that could shape the identity of the offense for years to come.