EAST LANSING – In Payton Thorne's first career start, the redshirt freshman gave Michigan State one of the best stretches of quarterback play in the 2020 season.
Following an early interception, Thorne led the Spartans on three straight scoring drives to give MSU a 21-10 advantage against Penn State at halftime.
However, Michigan State was held to just three points and 147 yards in the second half, leading to a 39-24 loss.
Yet, after his seventh spring practice, Thorne says he's "a lot better" than he was last year.
"Whether that's big or small, I don't really know if that's up to me to decide," Thorne told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "But I feel better about my game right now than I did in the fall, for sure."
The 6-foot-2 signal caller's improvement is vital with the addition of graduate transfer quarterback Anthony Russo who ranks among Temple's all-time leaders in passing yards (6,292) and touchdowns (44).
"I think that the competition brings out the best in a lot of guys. You've got a decision to make when a guy's coming in like that in how you're gonna respond to it," said Thorne. "I think you've gotta respond to it in a certain way, and you've just gotta put your head down and work. I feel like that's what I've been doing lately; gotta keep showing up every day and prove yourself every day."
Thorne's work ethic comes from time spent as a backup, but he quickly learned the difference between starting and preparing as if the job were his.
When Rocky Lombardi remained sidelined due to an injury, the staff named him the starter, which allowed Thorne to participate in multiple practices with the first team and take over with an ideal scoreboard.
"That was a good experience getting to work with the guys throughout the week and just go through the details of things that the starting quarterback does. Some of those things you don't really get to do as the backup quarterback," Thorne said. "And having that start, I was able to communicate with those guys throughout the week to really get on the same tune on what we want to do on Saturday, and I think that helped, for sure."
Michigan State offensive coordinator Jay Johnson is pleased with the spring Thorne has had at this point, noting his ability to work through progressions.
"I think things are beginning to slow down for him a little bit, and that's what he needs to happen because he's very high-energy, and we need him to slow down a little bit for him, and I think that's been occurring so far from what I've seen," said Johnson. "He does a great job, really knows things inside and out, and has the ability to help us there and manage that part on the field."
MSU head coach Mel Tucker, who believes the quarterback should be the No. 1 competitor on any given team, says Thorne is "willing to compete."
"He works really, really hard at his craft. He takes a lot of pride in his performance and his detail. He comes to work every day, and he's really serious about it. He doesn't take anything for granted; that's what I like about him," Tucker said of Thorne. "He's a go-getter. He's a worker. He's always working to get better. I believe that he puts pressure on himself to get better and to push."
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