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Finley vs. Grier

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Saturday’s upcoming contest between NC State and West Virginia will see of two of the nation’s best passers, and probably two of the top quarterback prospects in next year’s NFL Draft go head to head.

*Editor's Note: West Virginia at NC State has since been postponed due to Hurricane Florence.

Saturday’s upcoming contest between NC State and West Virginia will see of two of the nation’s best passers, and probably two of the top quarterback prospects in next year’s NFL Draft go head to head.

Physically and stylistically dissimilar as they may be, their respective roads to success followed mirroring paths.

Despite what the recent boom in quarterback transfers would suggest, there’s not much of a track record for said signal callers working out particularly well after the change of scenery. However, Ryan Finley and Will Grier are two of the shining, aspirational examples that every program thinks it’s getting, and rarely actually is.

Finley, who started his career at Boise State, and Grier, at Florida, possess divergent strengths and weaknesses, and operate within the confines of disparate offensive schemes, under contrasting philosophies, but do so with comparably elite efficacy.

For example, with NC State emphasizing the quick passing game, Finley posted a 65.1% completion percentage in the 2017 regular season, taking 2.31 seconds to throw per attempt, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, as West Virginia utilized more long developing plays, Grier’s completion percentage was 64.4%, averaging 2.79 seconds per drop back. Those .48 seconds may not seem like much, but relative to the national landscape it denotes a pretty marked gap, and yet both were in the national top 20 as far as accuracy.

Their touchdown to interception ratios were identical.

Grier did a better job of diagnosing and beating blitzes, with a 118.2 passer rating as compared to Finley’s 90 passer rating under such circumstances, but Finley was actually better when pressure got there, recording a 76.5 passer rating under duress, whereas Grier’s was 71.

Will Grier might have been the best intermediate passer in the country last year, tossing a 140.1 passer rating between 10-19 yards downfield, but Finley was more efficient in both the shorter and deeper depths of the fields. Granted, Grier was as productive as anyone on long balls, again, just not as efficient.

With Grier leading the way, the Mountaineers ranked 25th in passing success rate and 29th in passing IsoPPP. The less explosive but more efficient Finley-led Wolfpack ranked 17th and 96th, respectively.

And, although Grier did a nice job taking care of the ball, Finley’s 2% rate of turnover worthy throws were better than any of the other top flight QB’s in college football.

The approaches were different but as long as they were effective, and they were, it doesn’t make one wrong and the other right, or even one necessarily better than the other. They were simply different. And good.

Even as it pertains to next year’s draft, each one has perceived flaws, distinct from the other, but are comparatively enticing, nonetheless.

Finley is the physical prototype, but questions about arm strength could cap his developmental ceiling. Grier is undersized, and comes from a very “college” offense that displays fewer translatable skills, but could offer more long-term upside. Finley would likely be more capable of stepping in and contributing earlier, especially coming out of the real QBU.

The way each one matches up with the opposing defense is intriguing, as well.

West Virginia is very aggressive and does a good job of limiting passing efficiency, but at the expense of big plays. This will obviously challenge Finley to get out of his comfort zone. NC State, on the flipside, walks a more balanced line, and despite losing all that talent up front, still boasts solid depth and should be able to get pressure, which, likewise, will put Grier’s apparent weaknesses to the test. The two passing defenses ranked 36th and 33rd in S&P+ last year, and will likely fall in that same ballpark, so neither quarterback will have a glaring advantage there.

Still, with Grier facing a talented but inexperienced secondary, and Finley taking on a more battle tested, but less star studded defensive backfield, each one has an opportunity to have a big day.

One game won’t decide who’s the better quarterback, or draft prospect for that matter, nor should it. No matter, this matchup offers a chance, on a national stage, to bolster each one’s case, especially against a pair of defenses that, simply by happenstance, are designed to magnify the places where each one ostensibly has room for improvement.

They were born with different shoes, but walk similar paths. On Saturday, the active standard-bearers for transfer quarterback success will go head-to-head in a battle for supremacy.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP