Sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley will start for the Boise State football team in the season opener Sept. 4 against Washington, coach Bryan Harsin announced Sunday.
Harsin and Finley made statements but didn’t take questions. Offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz did take questions.
Drinkwitz said the coaches made Finley earn the job through fall camp despite his clear lead because they wanted to put him under pressure. Even in Saturday’s practice, they gave other quarterbacks chances with the first team to see if it would bother Finley.
“He’s been unbreakable,” Drinkwitz said.
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“... That’s really why we stretched it out the way we did, because we wanted to make sure that we put the pressure on him. We said, ‘OK, can you handle this? Is this just a one-hit wonder? Can you be consistent?’ Yesterday we gave some reps to some other guys with the first team just to see, ‘Is it going to rattle him, is it going to shake him?’ He’s been great.”
Finley stood out with his consistency, Drinkwitz said. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes in all but one fall practice.
“He’s a very accurate thrower,” Drinkwitz said. “He’s gotten better with his feel in the pocket and a good decision-maker. ... In Friday’s scrimmage he made a lot of really, really good decisions in situational football.”
Finley’s statement: “I just want to thank coach Harsin and coach Drinkwitz for this great opportunity. I just feel very grateful and blessed to be a part of this team, this family we have here. I’m just really excited, to be honest. I’m just excited to get the season going and I’m excited for Sept. 4.”
Harsin said the coaches wouldn’t discuss the backup quarterback situation. He said that job will remain competitive between true freshman Brett Rypien, sophomore Tommy Stuart and redshirt freshman Alex Ogle. All will travel, Drinkwitz said.
“Brett Rypien has done a very nice job and had a very good camp,” Harsin said. “From when he showed up to where he is now, I’ve seen a great amount of improvement from him. He prepares well. He has a great demeanor and is only getting better. He’s still a true freshman, will have to physically improve like every other true freshman has to.
“Tommy Stuart ... I thought he had a very good fall camp. ... Alex Ogle, we’ve all seen him the way he can throw the football. He’s a tremendous thrower and has a great gift and coach Drinkwitz has done a great job with him of getting him up to speed. ... Those guys are still competing and that needs to be a constant competition. Between those three, they all need to prepare like they are the starter.”
Finley, the backup last year and the Broncos’ only quarterback with game experience, had been the favorite to win the job all year. He opened a “big gap” in spring ball and “earned” the right to take every first-team snap in the open fall scrimmage, Harsin said previously.
Finley was 12-for-27 for 161 yards and two touchdowns with one interception last season. Most of his playing time, and both touchdown passes, came against Air Force when he relieved a struggling Grant Hedrick in a loss.
Finley (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) is from Phoenix. He was a multi-sport star in high school – competing in tennis, basketball and track and field in addition to football. He also played hockey growing up.
He was sidelined for nearly his entire true freshman season at Boise State with a shoulder injury. He returned in the spring of 2014 and won the backup job.
He still faces misdemeanor alcohol and resisting charges stemming from an arrest in April but Harsin has said he won’t be suspended.
Finley also is on his third offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in three years at Boise State and is the only quarterback on the roster who wasn’t recruited by Harsin.
All that combined has made for a tumultuous first two years on campus.
“He’s been through some stuff, which is good,” Drinkwitz said. “I said in August when we started this thing, things never go how you plan. How you respond to adversity kind of defines who you are as a person. He’s handled himself well.
“... His reaction (to getting the job) was very humble and grateful and thankful and very appreciative to coach Harsin for the opportunity he has given him and the way coach Harsin has been loyal to him through everything with his shoulder and all the scenarios.”
Harsin lauded Finley’s constant improvement from his backup role last season through spring ball, summer and fall camp. He also said Finley will bring a “unique” style to the position. He is the Broncos’ tallest starter since B.J. Rhode in 2002.
“We’ve had some good ones before him,” Harsin said, “but that’s not what this is about. It’s about him playing his game and doing what he’s been doing, so we’re excited about where we are at this time and we know we have plenty of work to do.
“... What I told him is the reason why you came to Boise State was to come here and graduate with a degree and be the starting quarterback at Boise State. He’s going to have an opportunity to do that, and that’s exciting. This is a very special and unique opportunity that happens in sports to be in that position and the attention that it brings.”
From a story earlier this month:
Former Paradise Valley High coach Donnie Yantis called Finley a “once-in-a-lifetime” quarterback. Finley led Paradise Valley (Phoenix) to the playoffs for the first time in three years as a senior, tossing 35 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
He threw game-winning touchdown passes on fourth down in back-to-back games.
“He’s a ridiculous competitor,” said Yantis, now the coach at Arizona Christian University. “He can’t stand losing. ... His intelligence and leadership and competitiveness will help him battle in that position.”
Finley didn’t play tackle football until his freshman year of high school but became the starter as a sophomore. He’s an exceptional athlete, competing in football, basketball, tennis and track and field during high school and hockey and flag football before that.
His athleticism often goes unnoticed because he’s 6-foot-4 and he wasn’t a running quarterback in high school.
“He played point guard on a state championship basketball team,” Yantis said. “We didn’t want to showcase his running skills because he was all we had. We didn’t want to get him hurt.”
Yantis, who keeps in touch with Finley, expects him to win the starting job but likes the Broncos’ approach of keeping the competition open into fall camp.
Finley needed shoulder surgery shortly after he arrived in 2013 but returned at less than full strength for spring ball in 2014 and won the backup job. He tossed two TD passes in relief in the loss at Air Force.
“He’s not going to let up,” Yantis said. “He’s going to battle every single day. I don’t think it matters that he’s not the guy. When he becomes the guy, the confidence will pour out of his veins.”
Yantis spoke to Finley the day after his April arrest on alcohol and resisting charges. The coach reminded him that the response to a mistake is more important than the actual event; Finley, he said, already understood.
“Integrity and character are very important to him,” Yantis said. “I have no doubt he’ll never let something like that happen again.”
• • •
I’m previewing the Boise State football team by position. I’ll post a blog with many notes and quotes about the position and write a feature for the newspaper that runs the following morning.
3 Tommy Stuart, 5-11, 196, R-So.
15 Ryan Finley, 6-4, 200, R-So.
18 Alex Ogle, 6-3, 206, R-Fr.
8 Anthony Upshaw, 5-11, 194, R-Fr.
4 Brett Rypien, 6-2, 199, Fr.
5 Garrett Collingham, 6-4, 202, Fr.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Ryan Finley, 6-4, 200, R-So.: He was 12-for-27 for 161 yards and two touchdowns with one interception last season as the backup. He has shown a keen understanding of the offense this year and possesses surprising mobility for a tall QB.
Brett Rypien, 6-2, 199, Fr., OR Tommy Stuart, 5-11, 196, R-So., OR Alex Ogle, 6-3, 206, R-Fr.: They likely will be listed this way and compete for the job all season. Rypien is a curious case – if he’s the No. 2 quarterback, do coaches protect his redshirt year or let him play? He was by far the most accomplished in high school as a top-15 QB recruit. Stuart has junior college experience and Ogle might have the most arm talent.
Overview: The Broncos have one of the least experienced quarterback rooms in the nation. Only one quarterback has played in a major college game (Finley) and none of the quarterbacks are upperclassmen. Finley replaces Grant Hedrick, who accounted for 4,288 yards and 33 touchdowns last season.
Key to success: When the Broncos win outright conference championships, they receive fantastic quarterback play: Hedrick last year, Kellen Moore in 2008 and 2009, Jared Zabransky in 2004 and 2006, Ryan Dinwiddie in 2003, Dinwiddie/B.J. Rhode in 2002 and Bart Hendricks in 1999-2000 fit that bill. So while solid play could get the Broncos to 10 wins, they likely need better than that to accomplish their goals.
Reason for concern: Finley is a question mark because of his inexperience. But if the Broncos have to replace him for some reason, the options get even dicier. Rypien seems the likely second choice but true freshman quarterbacks rarely lead teams to massive success.
Star player: Finley’s accuracy, understanding of the offense and scrambling ability give him a chance to produce an outstanding first season as a starter. He’s helped by a veteran offensive line and an impressive collection of receiving targets.
Breakout performer: Finley.
Newcomer to watch: Rypien, who threw for 13,044 career yards and amassed 50 TDs and a state record 4,552 yards as a high school senior, didn’t look like a true freshman when he threw two touchdown passes early in the fall scrimmage. He did when he threw an ugly interception later in the evening. If Finley struggles or gets hurt, fans will be calling for the much-hyped prospect.
• • •
Here are the results of the first starts by quarterbacks since 2001. This does not include the Senior Day start by Bush Hamdan, who was intercepted on his only pass.
Ryan Dinwiddie (2001, loss at South Carolina): 18-of-31, 162 yards, 1 TD, 1 int., 106.15 rating
B.J. Rhode (2001, win vs. Central Michigan): 13-of-27, 191 yards, 1 TD, 1 int., 112.39 rating
Jared Zabransky (2004, win vs. Idaho): 11-of-16, 234 yards, 0 TDs, 1 int., 179.10 rating
Taylor Tharp (2007, win vs. Weber State): 14-of-19, 184 yards, 1 TD, 0 ints., 172.40 rating
Kellen Moore (2008, win vs. Idaho State): 14-of-19, 274 yards, 2 TDs, 0 ints., 229.56 rating
Joe Southwick (2012, loss at Michigan State): 15-of-31, 169 yards, 0 TDs, 1 int., 87.73 rating
Grant Hedrick (2013, loss at BYU): 25-of-42, 232 yards, 1 TD, 1 int., 109.02 rating
Combined totals: 4-3 record (2-3 vs. FBS opponents), 110-of-185, 1,446 yards, 6 TDs, 5 ints., 130.41 rating