Boise State sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley’s first career start was historically unproductive and historically successful.
Finley passed for 129 yards in the Broncos’ 16-13 victory against Washington on Friday night — the lowest total by a first-time Boise State starting quarterback in the WAC/Mountain West era.
But he also was the first Boise State quarterback to beat a Power Five opponent in his first start and the third to win his first start against a Power Five team (joining Jared Zabranksy in 2004 and Kellen Moore in 2008).
“I was proud of the way Ryan played,” first-year offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said. “He handled the atmosphere. He had two bad decisions, I thought, on the night but other than that he played pretty well. Especially in the end, just little things, taking time off the clock and managing the clock.”
Finley was 16-for-26 with one interception and two sacks (one of the sacks was the other bad decision, Drinkwitz said).
Finley also gained 44 yards on the ground. He engineered three long drives in the first half — each lasted at least 11 plays — that resulted in two touchdowns and a field goal but couldn’t get the Broncos on the scoreboard in the second half.
His night might have looked much different if not for a deep ball that grazed wide receiver Chaz Anderson’s fingertips (it would have been a touchdown if completed) and a fumble by tailback Kelsey Young that killed the Broncos’ best drive of the second half.
“We saw tonight Ryan run the ball and use his legs,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “You can see the athletic ability he has and I really thought that was some of his better moments. I thought he played really well tonight.”
Finley relied heavily on short passes to tailbacks and tight ends. He completed six passes for 50 yards to the backs and four for 28 yards to the tight ends. The three returning starters at wide receiver combined for 51 yards on six catches, an average of 8.5 yards per catch.
“I thought they covered pretty well,” Finley said. “I’m just taking what they give me. If it’s the underneath stuff, then that’s what it is.”
Drinkwitz said the Huskies dropped as many as eight defenders into pass coverage on a regular basis rather than blitz Finley. That left openings for the run game and check-down throws.
On the first two possessions of the game, the Huskies rushed three twice, four five times and five once. When they rushed four, Finley threw two incomplete passes to wide receivers — one was almost intercepted — and scrambled three times. When they rushed three or five, he was 3-for-3 for 39 yards, all on short throws.
“When you watch the tape and you see a team that plays ... a lot of drop eight and three people rushing,” Drinkwitz said, “that’s what you’ve got to hit.”
Finley said he was comfortable running the offense after eight months preparing for his moment.
“I was expecting to be the starter,” he said. “I practiced like I was the starter.”
The Broncos’ overall offensive performance was a tale of two halves: 254 yards, 15 first downs and 16 points in the first half; 83 yards, six first downs and no points in the second half.
The seven second-half drives resulted in six punts and a fumble.
“We weren’t able to get our tempo going in the second half the way we were in the first half and we were behind the chains and behind in field position,” Drinkwitz said, “and when we got that flipped we had that fumble.”
The third-quarter fumble came in Washington territory at the end of a 43-yard drive, the Broncos’ longest of the half.
But Drinkwitz wasn’t about to dwell on what went wrong.
He wanted to talk about the final score and a first-half offense that marched down the field consistently.
“I’m fired up,” he said. “I get all the improvements and all that — we’re going to make them, and believe me there’s nobody who’s going to be harder on that film than us — but we’re 1-0 and we beat a Pac-12 team. We played it off pretty good, but there was a lot of pressure on that game tonight. I’m going to sleep better than I have in probably nine months.”
Our coverage from the Boise State-Washington game: