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Ryan Finley and the Dice Roll of a QB’s First Start

The college football season has officially begun, a Boise State victory over Washington ushering in the season on a positive note. The end result, albeit not pretty in getting there, was the one desired by the Boise State faithful.

Armchair coaching and quarterbacking has long been a favorite past time of any fan. Dissecting a team’s performance and play calling are staples of this tradition. Good or bad, a break down of the game is bound to come up in conversation.

This is true in the case of Boise State quarterback Ryan Finley. The redshirt sophomore made his first career start in last Friday’s victory over the Huskies. His numbers for the game aren’t going to jump off the screen: 16-26 for 129 yards with 1 interception and zero touchdown passes.

A meager 4.9 yards per pass attempt and a 61% completion percentage are not exactly numbers that scream “starting quarterback”. Throw in a few overthrown passes plus a few sacks and we have an immediate criticism of a quarterback starting his first collegiate game.




Indeed, those numbers aren’t going to garner many accolades. Initial thoughts of Finley’s performance ran the gamut of “unimpressive” to “Boise State needs a new quarterback”. Some even took to task the play calling of new offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz, comparing him to the forgettable 2013 season and the play calling of Robert Prince.

Was Finley unimpressive? To an extent, yes. Numbers don’t lie. For the most part, though, he handled the reins of what most likely was a very conservative game plan. Don’t forget, the man in charge of Washington’s defense was the same brilliant defensive mind that once led Boise State’s defense. Facing a strong secondary, Boise State’s plan was clearly to run the ball and let Finley make safe, smart short passes. Which for the most part, he did with poise.

Boise State has long been synonymous with exceptional quarterback play and creative play calling. Stretching as far back to Jim McMillian, Boise State football, over the last fifteen years, has had a quarterback that has put up great numbers. Bart Hendricks was a player that threw for 9030 career yards with 78 touchdowns. Ryan Dinwiddie’s numbers were even better, throwing for 9819 yards and 82 touchdowns.

A wonderful thing about the fans of Boise State football is their passion for the game. Not only do they want to see their team win, they want the Broncos to light up the scoreboard in doing so. An expectation as been created in which we want our quarterback to throw for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns every game.

The reality is that is not going to happen every game. Finley, his first start as a college player, put up numbers comparable to other quarterbacks in Boise State’s history and their first game. He did so playing against an opponent from the Pac-12 that has a decent defense. Let’s not forget that Finley is the same quarterback that threw 2 touchdowns late in the game against Air Force last year.

In fact, as we take a closer look, Finley’s numbers mirrored those of a few quarterbacks that stepped on the blue before him.

Jared Zabransky (2004, 65-7 win over Idaho)

Zabransky, owner of a 2007 Fiesta Bowl title and video game cover, opened his career as a starter with an easy shellacking over the Vandals. Zabransky was 11-16 for 234 yards, throwing no touchdowns and 1 interception. Zabransky did have 3 rushing touchdowns to his credit. Despite a tendency to keep Bronco fans on their toes, Zabransky went on to throw for 8256 yards for his career.

Taylor Tharp (2007, 56-7 win over Weber State)

Tharp was a senior by the time he made his first start. In keeping the seat warm for a skinny kid from Prosser, WA, Tharp made the most of his chance to start. In his debut as a starter, Tharp went 14-19 for 184 yards and 1 touchdown. In his one year as starting quarterback, Tharp threw for 3340 yards and led Boise State to 10 wins.

Kellen Moore (2008, 49-7 win over Idaho State)

Moore, as with everything else he accomplished while at Boise State, is the standard in which all quarterbacks will be measured against. In his first start, Moore simply went 14-19 for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns. Moore, of course, went on to become the career wins leader in the FBS and pass for nearly 15,000 career yards.




Joe Southwick (2012, 17-13 loss to Michigan State)

The post-Kellen Moore era began with Southwick and his 15-31 performance against Michigan State. He threw for 169 yards and an interception. In his 1+ seasons as starting quarterback, Southwick looked anywhere from shaky to solid on any given day. He ended his Boise State career with 4784 passing yards.

Grant Hedrick (2013, 37-20 loss to BYU)

Before being named the starting quarterback in 2014, Hedrick was Boise State’s quarterback for over half of the 2013 season. Hedrick’s debut was before a rowdy BYU crowd. He was 25-42 for 232 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. He would go onto to throw for 5656 yards in his career, run for nearly 1000 more, and lead Boise State to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Arizona.

In terms of numbers, Finley had a similar line as those lines of the previous quarterbacks (except, ahem, Moore). Others had better numbers, yet they were playing FCS (formerly Division 1-AA) schools to begin their careers. Nice little warm up games to acclimate themselves to a college atmosphere in which they were the head man on the field.

In the two losses, both Southwick and Hedrick faced schools of the power variety. Both were also on the road and Hedrick’s numbers were inflated because they were playing from behind most of the game.

Finley? Well, with the aid of a strong defense, he did something his two predecessors could not do. He won his opening game against a team from a “Power” conference. (BYU is considered “Power” for sake of argument, since opponents consider them as such on the schedule). It was not pretty but Finley got those first game jitters out and picked up a win in the process.

Yes, it’s a short season and Boise State’s margin for error is slim in regards to a big time bowl game or, dare I say it, a playoff spot. Trust the coaches as they trust in Finley and all will be well. They will find those moments to unleash Finley and his arm.

After all, it’s only one game.  And hey, if Finley doesn’t live up to the quarterback standard at Boise State, don’t worry. Due to the success of quarterbacks at Boise State, at least we know someone good is always waiting in the wings. Just don’t be alarmed when he doesn’t throw for 400 yards in his first start.

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About Jason Haskins

Jason Haskins
Jason is a 2001 graduate of Boise State and has been an avid fan of Boise State Athletics since the late 90's. Originally from Spring Creek, NV, Jason grew up a fan of the Fred Gatlin era Nevada Wolf Pack, but immediately switched his allegiances while attending school at Boise State. He hasn't looked back since and remains a loyal supporter of Boise State. For more: jason-haskins.com

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