NC State got the start to the 2016 season it needed on Thursday night, and on the way to a 48-14 victory over William & Mary, it may have gotten an answer to its quarterback quandary. Ryan Finley started the game at QB for the Wolfpack, and his performance only tightened his grip on the job.
New offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz didn’t challenge his quarterbacks to make a lot of plays down the field. Drink was content to let the Pack’s advantage at the point of attack lead a conservative run-first approach to this game. Finley got his feet wet with some lateral throws. It all worked.
On the first drive of the game, State needed eight plays to score a touchdown. Matt Dayes had six touches (and the score) on that drive, while Jaylen Samuels accounted for the other two touches. Drinkwitz sent a message right away that he’s going to prioritize the Pack’s top skill players.
Finley ran an offense that by design lacked flair, and he was efficient, completing 17 of 21 attempts for 174 yards. He looked relaxed and made no significant mistakes. Couldn’t ask for much more than that.
There was a little drama in the first half, as William & Mary answered State’s opening touchdown drive with a TD drive of its own, but the Pack had too much on both sides of the ball. The Tribe’s offense was frustrated by State’s defensive front and turned the ball over a couple of times in the first 30 minutes. Mistakes they could ill afford.
Dayes ended up with well over 100 yards rushing and two scores running behind an offensive line that consistently pushed back the W&M front, especially as the game wore on, the plays racked up, and the Tribe got tired. Samuels scored three times, twice on his now-patented speed sweep.
The defense played well in the first half after surrendering a touchdown on the Tribe’s first possession. For the most part, this was an outstanding night for the defense, but there were some sloppy mistakes that will need to be fixed in the weeks ahead.
Finley will go into week two as the starter, without question. Jalan McClendon wasn’t bad on Thursday night, but he did make one critical mistake—an interception in the first half on a horribly ill-advised throw near the sideline—and he was pretty much benched after that play. Finley played in the second half when the margin was still somewhat close, which tells you where the trust lies right now.
This may not be the end of the quarterback discussion, mind you—a road game can re-frame the question quickly. For now this is Finley’s show.
And State should feel good about its overall performance against a top-10 FCS team, mental errors and bad penalties aside. This is the kind of start I think we were all looking for; it wasn’t ever really in doubt, and the Pack’s strengths were as advertised. Much to fix yet—I’M LOOKING AT YOU, KICKOFF UNIT—but this is an encouraging beginning.