One of the biggest question marks facing the 2020 Michigan State Spartans football team — besides if we will actually be playing college football or not — is who is going to be the starting quarterback. We first examined junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi. Now, we are going to take a look at redshirt sophomore Theo Day.
Day is a bit of a wildcard, as quite frankly, we haven’t seen much of him. That gives fans hope that he could be the next Kirk Cousins or Connor Cook, but there’s also the possibility that he’s either not ready to win the starting job over Lombardi or Payton Thorne (or a possible grad transfer), or even if he does, that he may not pan out. So let’s look at both the potential pros and cons on starting Theo Day at quarterback
The case for Theo Day to be MSU’s starting quarterback:
Of the three apparent choices, Day may be the hardest to peg. Lomabardi has the experience and leadership traits. Payton Thorne has the intelligence and ready-made connection with Michigan State’s likely No. 1 wide receiver in Jayden Reed. Both of whom are sons of coaches and have the pedigree as well. Day, we just don’t know much about. Like Lombardi, Day has the coveted size for a quarterback. He’s even bigger than Lombardi at 6-foot-5, 222 pounds.
The highlight video above is from his junior year in high school — if he was showing off that kind of arm strength and those were the types of throws he was able to make back then, imagine what he might be able to do now with two years of college-level practices under his belt. Of course, he hasn’t had many live game reps at this level of competition, though.
Day is also the highest-rated recruit of the three aforementioned quarterbacks— No. 377 nationally, and the No. 17 pro-style quarterback, in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite. Day was also the No. 1 quarterback in the state of Michigan in his class. For comparison sake, Lombardi was No. 563 nationally in 2018 and Thorne was No. 1096 nationally in 2019. Of course, recruiting ratings don’t always translate to the next level, but the fact that Day had offers from powerhouses such as Georgia, in addition to other SEC schools, should tell you everything you need to know about his potential.
He had a highly successful high school career at Divine Child, leading the Falcons to deep playoff runs both his junior and senior years. As a senior, Day earned first-team all-state honors. He threw for 1,622 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing for 878 yards and 13 more touchdowns. As a junior, he threw for more than 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns, on his way to second-team all-state recognition.
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson is certainly excited about the prospect of Day. He had this to say on a recent conference call to local media:
“Theo’s a big kid. Shows probably more athleticism than you might think – I think he’s kind of sneaky in that way,” Johnson said. “But the thing I liked about Theo is I think the ball comes out really well. I’m excited to get with him more in person and obviously to get on the field.”
Day knows the competition is open and is looking to seize the opportunity. He had this to say leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl:
“It’s definitely a competition,” Day said in December regarding the future of the quarterback position. “I’m excited for spring, excited to compete.
“I’ve just been focused on putting in time after practice, on the weekends, stuff like that, when we’re not doing anything, just try to better myself.”
Unfortunately for Day and the rest of the quarterbacks (and the entire team) spring ball was postponed (and quite possibly completely cancelled), so he isn’t getting that opportunity to better himself on the field.
The case against Theo Day to be MSU’s starting quarterback:
Day has played a total of five snaps in his MSU career and has thrown three passes (completing two) for 12 yards. He is an absolute question mark, but you have to start somewhere. He didn’t look particularly strong in the 2019 Green-White spring game, either, completing just four passes on 12 attempts for 28 yards. During his true freshman season in 2018, Day did not see any game action and of course redshirted. He completed five out of 10 passes in the spring game that year.
He also didn’t seem to have as a good of a grip on the previous playbook as Lombardi (and possibly Thorne) does. Day played in the Penn State game last year, but was immediately yanked after calling the wrong play.
“The signal got mixed up, I missed the signal,” Day said. “I guess it’s just part of the process of getting in and getting in your first plays, but I’ll definitely learn that.
“Definitely when you first come in here, it’s just so much different than high school ball,” Day said. “There’s so much more to learn, there’s so much more that goes on with your reads and when to get the ball out, protections — all that stuff. Just learning the game of football as a whole compared to high school is completely different. That’s one thing I think I got a lot better on.”
That was well into his second season in the system. Mistakes happen, but this is particularly troubling since Michigan State now has a brand new coaching staff, new offensive system and an open competition at quarterback. The fact that campus is currently shut down and spring practice is not currently taking place could be detrimental to Day’s ability to master the new playbook, as he’ll have to try to implement it remotely.
Day was also the third-string quarterback for the past two seasons, which means he wasn’t able to beat Lombardi out for the backup job. Now, some may attribute that to Mark Dantonio and his affinity to seemingly give the reins to upperclassmen at the quarterback position, which may be the case to some degree, but I think we should be reading a little bit more into it. It’s quite possible that fully understanding the playbook, and being able to properly read and diagnose defenses, had a lot to do with why Lombardi was higher than Day on the depth chart for two years running (and yes I know Day was purposely redshirted as a freshman, but he still didn’t move up on the depth chart in 2019).
It appears that the physical traits are most definitely there for the big-bodied, strong-armed signal-caller, and as Johnson mentioned — and as his high school numbers show — it appears Day has sneaky good athleticism and can take off with the ball in hands when a play breaks down, too. However the mental and leadership aspects are what Day needs to work on if he plans to win the starting spot. He could certainly put everything together and claim the role, but he’ll have his work cut out for him after losing spring ball.
Will Theo Day be Michigan State’s starting quarterback in 2020?
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