Back Ryan Finely’s Time in Raleigh

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Ryan Finely’s Time in Raleigh

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ryan Finley left N.C. State shy of only Philip Rivers when it comes to passing yards in program history.

It can sometimes take many years for a college football fan base to appreciate what it possesses or had. It’s simple human nature to take certain things for granted, and it’s no different in football.

But in Raleigh, the Wolfpack learned after last year’s 4-8 campaign just how good they had it during three seasons with Ryan Finley behind center.

N.C. State fans will remember Finley arrived in their lives as a transfer quarterback from Boise State. He started immediately and led the Wolfpack to a seven-win season, including an Independence Bowl victory in 2016. Under his leadership the next two years, N.C. State won 18 games (nine each season).

At least nationally, the Finley era seemed to be defined by near misses and embarrassing losses in the biggest games. Although he finished with a 25-16 record, Finley went 2-7 versus ranked opponents. Against Lamar Jackson and Louisville in 2016, N.C. State lost 54-13. The following season, Finley beat Jackson, but three weeks later lost by 21 to Notre Dame.

During 2018, in a showdown of undefeated teams and a battle for ACC Atlantic supremacy, Clemson embarrassed N.C. State, 41-7. Finley ended his career in similar fashion, losing to Texas A&M, 52-13, in the Gator Bowl.

Finley nearly earned the signature victory that eluded him throughout his career in 2016 against Clemson, but N.C. State missed a 33-yard field goal as time expired in a tied game and lost in overtime. The Tigers went on to win the national championship that season.

With those results, especially the final performance in the Gator Bowl, it’s easy to see why Finley left with less fanfare than maybe he deserved. It didn’t help that he wasn’t regarded as a serious NFL quarterback prospect, and he already appears bound to be a career backup at best with Joe Burrow arriving in Cincinnati.

But despite the near misses and blowout losses in big moments, one can’t argue with Finley’s production. He left N.C. State shy of only Philip Rivers when it comes to passing yards in program history. Finley also finished with 60 touchdown passes, which is fourth all time for the Wolfpack behind Rivers, Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon.

Finley finished just shy of a 4,000-yard passing season in 2018, which placed him third on the N.C. State single-season passing list. He threw for 473 yards in a game that year against Syracuse, which was fourth-most in a contest in program history and the most for the Wolfpack in six years. Of course, it came in a losing effort because the N.C. State defense gave up 51 points.

He threw for 3,000 yards in all three of his seasons with the Wolfpack, racking up 10,501 yards total. His career 7.7 yards per pass attempt was half a yard better than Wilson and more than 0.7 yards better than Glennon and Jacoby Brissett.

His numbers look even better compared to the N.C. State quarterbacks from 2019. The Wolfpack shuffled between three signal callers last year -- freshman Devin Leary along with sophomores Bailey Hockman and Matthew McKay. They each attempted at least 97 passes and combined for 2,675 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Finley posted 3,928 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and 11 picks in his final season.

Leary, Hockman and McKay completed 52.7 percent of their passes and averaged shy of 5.9 yards per attempt. Finley recorded a 67.4 completion percentage with an 8.1 yards per pass average in 2018.

As much as the team struggled in big games with Finley, N.C. State still won plenty with him behind center too. During his final two seasons, the Wolfpack won 18 games in the span of two years for the first time since 2002 and 2003. Finley brought N.C. State its first back-to-back nine-win campaigns in 2017 and 2018 in a quarter of a century.

Could Finley and N.C. State have won more games? Yes. Does Finley probably wish he and his team played better in bigger contests? Of course. But Finley still accomplished plenty in Raleigh, and the program sure does miss him right now.