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N.C. State’s Finley is like facing a ‘pro’ QB

September 23, 2018

Marshall hasn’t beaten a really good quarterback in a long time.

How long?

Oh, for 10 years.

Remember Oct. 28, 2008? It was a Tuesday night and Houston was in “The Joan” with a gunslinger of a quarterback by the name of Case Keenum, who now quarterbacks the NFL’s Denver Broncos.

He completed 22 of 41 passes for 317 yards that night, but also tossed two interceptions.

That helped Marshall to a stunning 37-23 victory.

Keenum is the last really good quarterback the Herd has defeated.

OK, OK.

Yes, Marshall defeated Louisville, 17-13, in 2011 with Teddy Bridgewater calling the signals. But Bridgewater was a true freshman who was making his collegiate starting debut that day.

And it showed. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 221 yards and a TD, but Bridgewater also tossed two crucial interceptions.

But even the defeat of Bridgewater came seven seasons ago. So, whether it was Keenum 10 years ago or Bridgewater seven seasons ago, it has been a long while since MU has knocked off a quality quarterback.

That is very relevant considering Marshall will be facing the best quarterback the Thundering Herd will see all season when it takes on Ryan Finley and the N.C. State Wolfpack at 7 p.m. Saturday in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

How good is Finley?

Ask Marshall star safety Malik Gant.

“He is really good — most definitely,” said the 6-foot-2, 200-pound redshirt junior.

Gant should know. He made the first collegiate start of his career last season against — who else? — Finley and the Wolfpack. And although Gant made a game-high 17 tackles, Finley still completed 29 of 36 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns in N.C. State’s 37-20 win over Marshall.

“We know he is a great player,” said Gant. “Our coaches are stressing to us a lot that he’s a very good player. His eyes ... he knows exactly what a defense is doing by reading before the play. He’s just a pro in everything he is doing.”

There was a point last season where there was talk of him declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft. But, instead, he stayed for his final year at N.C. State.

“Our coaches stressed that too,” said Gant. “He’s a pro quarterback and he’s going to know exactly what we’re doing. We have to be more disciplined than we usually are.

“We have to be disciplined with our eyes because we fought that a lot last year. When the game got real tight we weren’t disciplining our eyes and they did a lot of trick plays against us.”

Define “eye discipline.” “Just know who our man is,” explained Gant, “and making sure we’re checking our matchups and staying on them the entire play even when things don’t look right during a play. Just knowing that we’re staying with our assignment.”

So, when facing a quarterback as good as Finley there is a very small margin for error.

“Most definitely, because he can extend plays,” said Gant. “He can throw the throws that you don’t often see quarterbacks make. He’s just a pro quarterback and you just have to make sure you stay on your toes.”

Most collegiate defensive backs don’t often characterize a guy as a “pro” quarterback.

“Not usually,” said Gant. “That’s a compliment to him. He makes a lot of throws. While watching a lot of film, you see throws that normal quarterbacks don’t make. But he makes them.”

Chances are Finley will continue making them on Saturday.

N.C. State will win, 34-24.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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