Through the spring, I’ll preview each position on the Boise State football team.
Note: The series concludes Wednesday with linebackers.
CAN ANYONE CATCH RYAN FINLEY?
Boise State sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley took every first-half snap with the first-team offense in the Spring Game on Saturday – an indication that he has maintained the frontrunner status for the starting job that he built as the backup last season.
Finley looked sharp throwing passes in the 10- to 20-yard range and threw a perfect deep ball to Chaz Anderson. Four of his six drives should have ended in points, but two were undone by fumbles. He led one touchdown drive and settled for a field goal in the 2-minute drill after throwing just high over the middle to Shane Williams-Rhodes in the end zone.
Finley also showed his athleticism. He rushed for 31 yards on four carries.
His poise in the scrimmage likely dates back to the fourth quarter of the loss at Air Force, when he came on in relief and threw two touchdown passes. He finished the season 12-for-27 for 161 yards and two TDs with one interception. He was up and down in that Air Force appearance, but he’s the Broncos’ only quarterback who knows how it feels to play in a major college game.
“(Finley) has done well,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “He’s put himself in position to have the most experience out of those guys. The guy who was ready to play (last year). And he has improved and he’s taken advantage of that. ... I like where Ryan is at. He understands what we’re trying to accomplish. He’s been in the fire, so to speak. Now what does he do this summer? How does he take advantage of that? Come fall, the first few practices, how does he take advantage of that?”
Finley’s track record says he’ll continue to improve.
A year ago, he was a major question mark for the program. He arrived in the summer of 2013 with a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. He underwent surgery during his redshirt season and coaches weren’t sure how much he would do in spring 2014. Even though his arm wasn’t full strength, he got onto the field that spring and did enough to become the backup quarterback.
He was the Arizona Republic All-State quarterback in 2012 at Paradise Valley High in Phoenix. He tossed 35 touchdown passes and eight interceptions while rushing for 282 yards as a senior.
He was recruited by the Chris Petersen staff after Harsin left for Texas, but Finley said in August that he likes the direction of the offense under the Harsin staff. He hasn’t been made available to the local media since then.
“I love this offense,” Finley said. “... Absolutely love it.”
His competition comes from a trio of quarterbacks who were recruited by this staff: sophomore Tommy Stuart, who played one season of junior college football in 2013; redshirt freshman Alex Ogle, who has drawn more raves for his arm talent than his play so far; and true freshman Brett Rypien, the January arrival and four-star recruit.
Stuart was the No. 2 quarterback in spring ball. Based on the Spring Game, Rypien appeared to be ahead of Ogle.
“Tommy Stuart, from where he was when he got here to where he is now, is a lot better,” Harsin said. “Just his approach, his leadership, the way he’s playing. Brett Rypien showed me (Saturday) that he’s gotten better. He stood in the pocket, made some plays, made mistakes, wasn’t perfect. But the things we’ve asked him to do that we’ve looked at, he’s gotten better. Alex Ogle, he can spin it. Today, he managed it better. Was every throw perfect? No, but his management has improved.”
Finley was 13-for-25 for 196 yards in the Spring Game. Rypien was 9-for-14 for 48 yards. Stuart was 8-for-12 for 70 yards. And Ogle was 6-for-11 for 81 yards with a 43-yard TD pass.
Teammates say the group impressed them throughout the spring.
“The quarterbacks have been doing a really good job taking control of the team and making sure we’re headed in the right direction,” senior safety Darian Thompson said.
PERSONNEL AT A GLANCE
3 Tommy Stuart, 5-11, 194, R-So.
15 Ryan Finley, 6-4, 199, R-So.
18 Alex Ogle, 6-3, 218, R-Fr.
8 Anthony Upshaw, 5-11, 194, R-Fr.
4 Brett Rypien, 6-2, 197, Fr.
Returning starters (0 of 1): None
Key losses: Grant Hedrick started 19 games over the past two seasons and developed into a playmaker who could hit the deep ball and do damage with his running ability. He led the nation last season in completion percentage (70.8) and was involved in 33 touchdowns (23 passing, eight rushing, two receiving).
Key returners: Finley was the backup last season.
Other players to watch: It was highly unlikely that Rypien would contend for the starting job in spring ball. The summer months are critical for him to get in position to make a run in August, when he’ll have a better idea what he’s doing in the offense and more refined fundamentals.
Projected starters: QB Ryan Finley
Out for spring: None
Incoming signees: None
– Here’s how Boise State’s first-year starting QBs have fared since 2001: Ryan Dinwiddie, 2001 (29 TDs, 11 ints., 164.69 rating, 8-4 team record); Jared Zabransky, 2004 (16 TDs, 12 ints., 146.99, 11-1); Taylor Tharp, 2007 (30 TDs, 11 ints., 152.85, 10-3); Kellen Moore, 2008 (25 TDs, 10 ints., 157.12, 12-1); Joe Southwick, 2012 (19 TDs, 7 ints., 141.78, 11-2); Grant Hedrick, 2013 (16 TDs, 5 ints., 150.04, 4-3 in half a season). Of those six seasons, the Broncos won conference titles in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
– In season openers with new starting QBs, the Broncos lost to South Carolina in 2001, beat Idaho in 2004, beat Weber State in 2007, beat Idaho State in 2008 and lost to Michigan State in 2012. Zabransky (vs. Oregon State, second game) and Moore (at Oregon, third game) are the only quarterbacks on the list who won their first game against a power-conference opponent.
– Coaches put some pressure on the quarterbacks during the spring to prepare them for the fall. “We approached it like every rep was a game rep,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said. “A sense of urgency in everything we did. You have to recreate that urgency with every rep, every throw. ... You have to make sure they feel that urgency.” For a week, the quarterbacks were live in practice – able to be hit. That covered four practices. “Everybody came out of that healthy,” Drinkwitz said. “Nobody shied away from (contact). I’m proud of them for that. We put them in some tough situations, but by no means are we where we need to be.”
– Wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes on Finley: “He’s really a student of the game. He’s a really smart person, even off the field with every-day stuff. I feel like he can make the throws and he also knows where he’s supposed to make the throw.”
– Tight end Jake Roh on whether the players talk about the QB race: “Here and there. It gets talked about obviously. That’s up to the coaches. You let it be in their hands.”
– Harsin, on Rypien, early in spring: “We have a style of how we coach and what we want. There are a few things we want to change and work on and we’re doing that right now, so he’s going to have to adapt to what we’re doing.”
– Moore wasn’t the favorite coming out of spring ball in 2008. “It’s a long process,” he said Saturday. “This is phase one of it. Then you’ve got summer and fall camp. It’s what you do the next few months that probably has a bigger indication than just this spring ball.”
– Upshaw, a walk-on, was brought onto the team to help with practice. He isn’t part of the quarterback competition.
– None of the quarterbacks were available for interviews this spring. Below is an interview with Finley from last August.
• • •
SPRING BALL COVERAGE