N.C. State talked a lot in training camp about using two quarterbacks.
Then Ryan Finley was nearly flawless in his first game and helped the Wolfpack trounce William & Mary 48-14 on Thursday night. Suddenly there’s only one quarterback to talk about.
After a prolonged training camp competition between Finley and sophomore Jalan McClendon, Finley started and barely looked back. The third-year sophomore completed his first nine passes, led the offense into the end zone on his first four drives and finished with two touchdown passes and only four incompletions (17-of-21, 174 yards).
Not bad for a guy on a different team last year — who missed the last 10 games with an ankle injury — and didn’t get to Raleigh until this summer.
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“He did everything he had to do,” junior tight end Jaylen Samuels said. “He controlled the offense.”
Samuels scored three touchdowns, and senior running back Matt Dayes ran for 138 yards and scored twice, but it was Finley’s poise and efficiency that highlighted the Wolfpack’s fourth straight season-opening win under coach Dave Doeren.
“I thought he looked really comfortable,” Doeren said. “He got guys where they needed to be. I thought he played pretty smart.”
Finley, who started three games at Boise State last year before graduating and transferring to N.C. State, was content with his completion percentage (80.9). He didn’t have much else to say about a transition he made look incredibly easy.
“I’m just a game-manager out there, honestly,” Finley said, noting the excellence of Dayes and Samuels, who led the Wolfpack with five catches for 66 yards.
“I’m just trying to get them the ball.”
On the game’s opening drive, only Dayes and Samuels touched the ball, which was a welcomed departure after last year’s confounding propensity to forget about Samuels.
First-year offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz, who coached Finley last year at Boise State, couldn’t have scripted a better start. Finley led an eight-play, 70-yard drive. He threw for 40 yards while Dayes and Samuels did the rest on the ground.
Dayes capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown, less than 3 minutes and 30 seconds into the game.
William & Mary answered with its own touchdown drive to tie the score at 7, but Finley came out and marched the offense down the field again.
This time 75 yards on 16 plays with a second touchdown from Dayes, from 4 yards out.
McClendon, who was Jacoby Brissett’s backup the past two seasons, worked the third series. He ran for 6 yards on his first snap and completed three of his first four passes, for 43 yards, but was intercepted by Corey Parker at the William & Mary 19-yard-line.
McClendon didn’t get back on the field until the fourth quarter. Finley led two more scoring drives before the end of the half as the Wolfpack stretched out to a 28-7 lead.
Finley went 15-of-18 in the first half with 157 passing yards and a 16-yard touchdown pass to receiver Bra’Lon Cherry.
McClendon finished 6-of-9 for 88 yards with the one interception.
There was a difference in how Finley got the team ready and moved at a faster pace in Drinkwitz’s system.
“You can kind of see what we saw in camp: You’ve got one that’s really comfortable and doing everything and another guy that’s getting it down and has a great arm,” Doeren said.
“We just have to keep getting (McClendon) reps and getting him more and more comfortable. That will come with time.”
McClendon came back in the game early in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-1 from the Tribe’s 24-yard-line. He ran for a first down and took one more snap, a read option run by Reggie Gallaspy before Finley came back in and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Samuels.
Samuels, who also ran five times for 24 yards and two touchdowns, marveled at Finley’s grasp of Drinkwitz’s offense.
“You can definitely tell that he’s been doing it for a while,” Samuels said. “He is used to the offense. He was out there controlling the tempo of the game. I think that’s what we need. We need somebody to put us in place, basically.”
Finley directed the credit right back to N.C. State’s offensive line for paving the way for 259 rushing yards.
Finley downplayed his performance and wasn’t ready to make any declarations about the future of the quarterback position.
“We’re a quarterback unit. and we’re in this thing together to win games,” Finley said.
After a month of a lot of talk about rotating quarterbacks and sharing the job, Finley’s sterling performance spoke louder than words.