It started as a potential rotating quarterback situation. Ryan Finley, however, eliminated the need to switch for one evening and perhaps the foreseeable future.
In a mild surprise, Finley started in his NC State debut and the Boise State-transfer shined as the Wolfpack throttled William & Mary, 48-14, at Carter-Finley Stadium in the season opener for both schools.
Finley received the majority of the playing time behind center and he made the most of it. The redshirt sophomore finished 17-for-21 passing for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
After leading the Pack to touchdowns on NC State’s first two drives of the game, Finley made way for Jalan McClendon. The redshirt sophomore from Charlotte, who seemed poised to take over the quarterback job, threw an interception in his first stint of the contest. Finley relieved him and never looked back.
“I thought he looked really comfortable,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said of Finley. “I thought he got guys where they needed to be. He had good checks. He was doing exactly what [NC State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz] wanted him to do except for a couple of plays.”
Finley started 9-for-9 in the contest while Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels picked up where they left off last season. Dayes tallied 138 yards rushing on 23 carries with two touchdowns while Samuels added three touchdowns (two rushing and one receiving) on five catches for 66 yards along with five rushes for 24 yards.
“I was a little nervous but more just excited to get out there and play the game,” Finley said. “I didn’t figure out [that he was the starting quarterback] until close to game-time...Obviously, when you have backs like Matt, Jay Sam, Reggie [Gallaspy] and those guys you want to get them the ball in space and get them running downhill.”
The Wolfpack as a team was running downhill following a William & Mary touchdown that tied the game at seven less than 10 minutes into the contest. The Tribe scored on a 75-yard drive but only mustered 93 more yards in the remainder of the contest.
Meanwhile, NC State scored touchdowns on each of Finley’s first four drives, including a 65-yard march that took only 74 seconds and culminated in a 16-yard touchdown pass to Bra’Lon Cherry with 20 seconds left in the first half.
The score gave the Wolfpack a, 28-7, advantage and despite allowing a second touchdown drive from the Tribe in the opening drive of the second half, NC State never looked back.
“It was a great feeling,” Dayes said of his return to the field following a season-ending injury versus Clemson in the eighth game of the 2015 campaign. “I should have had three [touchdowns] but things happened on the goal line but it was fun out there and I had fun with my teammates. I am excited for next week.”
The lone negative for Finley might have been a line adjustment on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line where he called a quarterback sneak instead of giving the ball to Dayes.
"He ran a sneak on fourth-and-one which he shouldn't have done," said Doeren. "That was not the play called. Turn around and hand the ball off to your tailback. I know he was trying to make a play. That's what I like about this team right now; there are guys eager to make plays, and they are not bashful about it."
Finley agreed after the game.
"I might of got a little greedy," he said, smiling. "I probably should have just handed the ball to Matt Dayes on that one."
Next week’s game will be a big one as NC State faces non-conference foe East Carolina in a matchup of schools located about 80 miles apart. The process of preparing for the Pirates will begin a little sooner for the Wolfpack due to the Thursday night opener.
“We have got Saturday off,” Samuels said. “So [it will] probably Sunday [to begin to focus on ECU] because we have Saturday off.”
There will be plenty to focus on and improve but one thing seemed certain to Doeren immediately after the Wolfpack’s victory.
“I am assuming Ryan would [start versus East Carolina] after his play,” Doeren said. “We will sit down [Friday], watch the film and talk. That kid played pretty good.”