NC State’s Ryan Finley a special student-athlete
HUNTINGTON — It didn’t take long for Marshall University football head coach Doc Holliday to heap praise on N.C State quarterback Ryan Finley when speaking with the media earlier this week.
Simply put, as Finley goes, so too do the Wolfpack.
Holliday knows if his team has any chance of pulling the upset against their Atlantic Coast Conference foe at 7 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium (CBS Sports Network), the Thundering Herd must contain Finley — something no one has been able to do this season.
“He will be one of the most talented quarterbacks to come play at Joan C. Edwards Stadium,” Holliday said. “He is a really good player and makes great decisions.”
Holliday’s praise level is eye-opening, considering Joan C. Edwards Stadium has seen the likes of Chad Pennington, Rakeem Cato, Ben Roethlisberger and several other quarterbacks who have gone on to lengthy NFL careers.
In two games this season, Finley has completed 60 of 81 passes for 679 yards and four touchdowns with one interception while leading the Wolfpack to a 60 percent third-down conversion rate (15 of 25).
Finley is also putting up those numbers without a steady rushing attack to balance out the offense. So far this season, N.C. State is one of the nation’s worst in rushing yards per game, averaging just 99 yards on the ground. That means the offense has been one-dimensional, but Finley is still finding ways to keep the ball moving.
Holliday credited that success to his football I.Q. and his quick release with the football.
In terms of quarterback comparison, Holliday pointed back to a player that, ironically, he got to watch each day while coaching for the Wolfpack in the early 2000s.
“He reminds me of when I was there for five years with Philip Rivers,” Holliday said about the Los Angeles Chargers quarterback. “If you look at Philip, we were pretty good at third down, too, because he was a really good player and he’s still playing for the Chargers. Finley is that kind of guy.”
Finley’s knowledge isn’t limited to the football field, either.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound native of Phoenix, Arizona, is the lone player from a Power 5 school who a master’s while having his final year of eligibility in front of him. Finley actually has three academic degrees: his undergraduate degree in psychology; a master’s liberal studies; and also a graduate certificate.
While all three degrees might help him down the road, Holliday doesn’t expect Finley to need those degrees for another few years, based on his on-field performance in two seasons years at N.C. State and previous work at Boise State prior to his graduate transfer.
“A lot of people have him picked to be the No. 1 player in the (NFL) draft,” Holliday said. “You watch him on tape and he just doesn’t make a bad throw. He can make all the throws.”
Holliday, his staff and Herd defensive players have all seen plenty of Finley video in the last week as they prepare to take on the Wolfpack.
Teams that try to sit back in a zone defense are picked apart by Finley’s precision.
But, teams who pressure like to pressure quarterbacks leave themselves vulnerable in one-on-one matchups that Finley has proven to win repeatedly.
Holliday said the answer for his team lies somewhere in between as the Herd attempts to mix up its defensive looks.
“He is going to make his throws and they will make their catches, but we just can’t give up the big play,” Holliday said. “We just have to get them on the ground and continue to compete and play hard. I know our guys are looking forward to the challenge.”
NC STATE (2-0) AT MARSHALL (2-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Joan C. Edwards Stadium
TV: CBS Sports Network
RADIO: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM, WMUL 88.1-FM