Michigan State football: Do we have a quarterback controversy on our hands?
When Brian Lewerke’s throwing shoulder wasn’t getting any better, Rocky Lombardi knew he would have to step up last Saturday against Purdue. His first college start at Michigan State was going to be against one of the hottest teams in the country, and he was going to have to play well.
There could be no excuses. And there weren’t.
Lombardi threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns and the Spartans won 23-13 to raise their record to 5-3. The freshman from Clive, Iowa, unleashed by the coaches and the game plan, threw 46 passes — and looked good doing it.
His breakout performance begs the question: Do we have a quarterback controversy on our hands in East Lansing?
It’s been Lewerke’s job since 2016, and he’s been the veteran leader in the quarterback room. But he’s hurt, and we don’t know how bad. It’s his throwing shoulder, too, which can’t be ignored. He played hurt in the loss against Michgian, but he played poorly, posting career-worst numbers (5-for-25 passing, 20 percent).
He also hasn’t had the big year many expected. So could there be an issue here? Michigan State Mark Dantonio, who will likely give us updates later on Tuesday, says no.
“It’s a tight room, and they’re all in it together,” Dantonio said of his quarterbacks. “There’s no animosity or things like that going on in that room.
“We’ve gotten good leadership from our quarterbacks throughout this year and last year, really. I think Brian Lewerke does a great job with that, too. I think Rocky is an emotional guy, having his first start. And I thought he brought a little extra. He is like that. He is a dependable leader, and he studies the game hard.”
Dantonio was impressed with Lombardi’s first game. He also wasn’t surprised by it. He knew what Lombardi was capable of against Purdue, a team that had just clobbered then-No. 2 Ohio State a week earlier.
“I thought he played with confidence, and that’s what you have to do. It’s a very tenuous thing, confidence,” Dantonio said. “When you see it, you recognize it. And he played with confidence and aggressively, and I think that was needed.
“He prepared himself for this moment. So when the moment came, he was ready.”
What Dantonio liked the most was that Lombardi didn’t play like a freshman. He didn’t sit back. It was obvious that he had confidence in himself, as well.
“I thought he had good velocity on the ball. I thought he made quick decisions for the most part,” Dantonio said. “When he had to pull it down, he ran with authority. He had a couple slight overthrows that could have been huge plays for him, for us.”
Now we’ll have to see what comes next. If Lewerke is healthy enough to go Saturday at Maryland (Noon, ET: TV: ESPN2), does he get the start? Has Lombardi earned the right to get a second start?
Lewerke’s health might be the biggest determining factor. But at the very least, what we learned last Saturday is that the Spartans can win games with Lombardi at quarterback, and that’s a good thing.
Maybe they can win a lot of games.