Ryan Finley wasn’t a baseball player growing up, so he wondered how awkward his quarterback slide would look at NC State. He expected he’d need to learn considering the Wolfpack quarterbacks ran for nearly 900 yards the two seasons prior.
It turns out it wasn’t the sliding that would be a concern for the 2016 transfer in the Wolfpack’s offense. It was the running that would precede it.
“We didn’t work on running much,” Finley said of last season, “so when I did it in the game I kind of looked like an idiot.”
Finley’s strides, no matter how ungainly at times, weren’t the issue so much as there weren’t enough of them from the quarterback during a 7-6 season. Finley, in his first season at NC State, was 124th among quarterbacks in rush yards when excluding sacks. The two seasons prior, Jacoby Brissett ran for 1,335 yards when excluding sacks, helping explain the offense’s drop from 38th in 2015 to 53rd last season in points per drive among Power 5 teams against Power 5 opponents.
The spring is a time for development, Finley said, and much of the focus is expanding his role in the running game. He was sometimes substituted for dual-threat quarterback Jalan McClendon, but Finley ran for only 94 yards last season.
This spring, Finley and the quarterbacks are going through drills with the running backs. There’s been a focus on better decision-making in the zone-read offense and running with a little power when necessary.
Finley wasn’t a part of spring practice last season at NC State as he did not settle on the Wolfpack until May. He was a Boise State transfer, following his former quarterback coach, Eliah Drinkwitz, who NC State hired in January 2016.
“The main spring goals for the quarterbacks were mentality in the running game and decision-making outside of the pocket,” Finley said. “It’s when a play doesn’t go as planned and running tough, knowing when to drive, sliding when needing to and when to lower the shoulder.”
Outside of the pocket last season, Finley was 32nd among Power 5 quarterbacks in pass efficiency. He was 37th in efficiency when pressured. The Wolfpack have worked a lot of No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense this spring, which means Finley is being forced to avoid one of the ACC’s best defensive lines. Bradley Chubb is among the favorites to lead the conference in sacks this season.
Having come from Boise State, Finley has seen up close the environment of a winning program, and he thinks those closely contested practices pitting the top units against each other have created an intensity around the program.
“The passion at our practice and the energy doesn’t get much better, and I can speak from experience being at two different programs,” he said. “Definitely got a chip on the shoulder and got a lot to prove.”
It was a solid inaugural season for Finley as he threw for 3,000 yards and completed more than 60 percent of his passes last season, but he committed several costly turnovers in his first season as a full-time FBS starter. His overtime interception ended the Clemson game. Two weeks later he was picked at the goal line in the waning seconds against Boston College, which had not won a conference game since 2015. Interceptions deep in the opponents’ zone came in losses to Florida State and Miami, too.
With a year under his belt in the ACC, Drinkwitz said there is an understanding of what to expect now. With Finley’s accuracy and the team’s top four receivers in yards from a season ago returning, Drinkwitz is “excited about the possibilities.”
“But at the end of the day, those are just possibilities,” he said. “We’ve got to work to make those things happen.”