On paper, Ryan Finley’s passing numbers through two games are impressive.
The N.C. State quarterback has thrown for 756 yards and completed 74 percent of his attempts. He has five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Pretty good, right?
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Depends on who you ask. Finley and N.C. State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz are tough to please when it comes to Finley’s play. The two could have a weekly contest: “Who’s harder on Ryan Finley?”
Finley completed 80.5 percent of his throws (29-of-36) for 341 yards with three touchdowns in the Wolfpack’s 37-20 win over Marshall this past Saturday.
Not bad, at least to the untrained eye.
“It’s probably going to kill me to watch the film,” Finley said after the game. “There are a lot of plays, personally I wish I could have back.”
Yeah, but there were some good ones, too. The 34-yard touchdown to receiver Kelvin Harmon right before the end of the half was a near perfect throw, and it put Wolfpack ahead for good.
“That was a really good throw,” Drinkwitz said.
Ah, but here comes the “but.”
“But I thought he started really slow,” Drinkwitz said.
Such is the dynamic between the soft-spoken coach and the reserved quarterback and has been since they were together at Boise State, where Finley began his college career. Drinkwitz was hired by N.C. State coach Dave Doeren in January 2016, and Finley graduated from Boise State that June and transferred to N.C. State before the start of the 2016 season.
Finley won the job last August and has started ever since. There is a strong connection, and rapport, between the two. Good luck getting either to determine which one pushes Finley harder.
“Of course I’m being hard on myself, that’s how you get better,” Finley said.
And there’s a reason for that, Drinkwitz said.
“He’s hard on himself because I’m so hard on him,” Drinkwitz said.
However the push-and-pull works, it has made Finley better to start the 2017 season. The 6-4, 210-pound junior from Phoenix has completed 74 of 100 passes for 756 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. His yardage ranks ninth in the country, and second in the ACC behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (771 yards).
That’s statistical progress – higher completion percentage, more yards per game from 2016 – but there’s still work to be done.
Both can find fault in Finley’s performance thus far, even though Finley established a new N.C. State record for completions (45) in a game in the opener.
Finley only had seven incompletions against the Herd but missed on three of his first four throws. On N.C. State’s second possession, he had receiver Jakobi Meyers alone down the left seam but a poor throw cost the Wolfpack a chance at a long touchdown.
Even the first play from scrimmage, a 46-yard run by Finley on an option keep, was fodder for film scrutiny.
“Anytime you’re that wide open running down the sideline, we’d like for you to score on the first play of the game,” Drinkwitz said.
Finley finished the first quarter with just 25 passing yards and was 5-of-9.
“He missed the first three throws,” Drinkwitz said. “He needs to make those throws and he knows it.”
Ah, but here comes another “but.”
“But he did rebound really well,” Drinkwitz said.
That Finley did. He completed 24 of 27 passes after the first quarter for 316 yards with three scores. But last week, is last week, Drinkwitz said, and there bigger challenges ahead.
Finley started strong in 2016 but hit a bit of a wall in ACC play. In five games outside league play, Finley averaged 195.2 yards per game and had nine touchdowns and no interceptions. In eight ACC games, Finley averaged 259.9 yards per game and had nine touchdowns with eight interceptions.
So far, so good for Finley, but Drinkwitz is not about to let up on him.
“We did the same thing last year,” Drinkwitz said of Finley’s fast start. “When we get to the meat of the schedule, we’ll find out.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio