Payton Thorne has to be close to perfect if Michigan State is going to go to Maryland and steal a win.
Michigan State and Maryland are both coming off losses. One was demoralizing and one was encouraging (if you can even call a loss encouraging).
Payton Thorne played one of his worst games as a Spartan, passing for just 132 yards and two interceptions on 17-of-24 completions. He had a season-low 5.5 yards per attempt which isn’t going to cut it for the upcoming gauntlet of games.
Although he’s been more accurate this season, on paper, than he has before with a 65 percent completion rate, he’s making poor decisions and freshman mistakes.
That can’t happen on Saturday at Maryland.
We’ve seen Thorne play well and keep Michigan State in a game this season (Washington) but we’ve also seen him as a complete non-factor (Minnesota). He’s been so-so as well (Akron and WMU) but the Spartans need him to be great against the Terrapins on Saturday.
It might be your typical drag-it-out Big Ten game if there’s a lot of rain in the forecast but if it remains dry enough to throw the ball, Thorne needs to have his best game of the year. He may need to have one of his best games as a Spartan.
We know Taulia Tagovailoa — if healthy — is going to get his yards. Scottie Hazelton hasn’t exactly instilled confidence after his post-practice media session this week so don’t expect the secondary to suddenly snap into shape. The Spartans are going to give up yards through the air and if they can hold Maryland to a couple of field goals instead of touchdowns, that’ll be huge for the offense.
Thorne needs to step up and out-duel Tagovailoa. That’s a tall task, but Thorne has shown before that he can play at a high level and put the offense on his back. Jay Johnson needs to play on the strengths of the offense (passing game) and let Thorne throw it deep.
Maryland’s passing defense (260 passing yards per game allowed) is just as bad as the Spartans’ (265 yards per game), believe it or not.
We’re going to need to see Thorne taking advantage of that lackluster defensive backfield and the mismatches with Jayden Reed and Keon Coleman. Utilize those tight ends and even the running backs leaking out of the backfield as safety valves. He has to make plays with his legs, too. Extend plays, go through progressions, and avoid turnovers.
If Thorne can have his best game of the year, completing around 60-65 percent of his throws for 300 yards and a few touchdowns with no turnovers, Michigan State will beat Maryland.
Michigan State needs a near-perfect performance from him on Saturday evening.