azcentral sports’ Doug Haller and Greg Moore dissect ASU football’s 37-35 win over the Ducks.
The quarterback with the longest streak of pass attempts without an interception plays across the country at North Carolina State, but Ryan Finley grew up on Arizona’s high school football fields. A product of Paradise Valley High, his streak is at 224 entering Saturday’s game against Syracuse.
The quarterback with the longest streak in Arizona State history got off to a slow start, but Manny Wilkins recently has played his best football. A product of northern California, his streak without an interception is at 188, third-longest in the nation.
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In the age of spread offense, college football lives off the pass. In 2010, nine teams averaged 300-plus passing yards per game. So far this season, 25 top that number. That puts a high importance on ball security, which makes Finley and Wilkins experts on the subject.
azcentral sports asked each for keys to taking care of the football:
‘Ball security is job security’
At Paradise Valley, Finley played for Donnie Yantis, who today is ASU’s athletics director for recruiting. Upon graduation, Finley attended Boise State, suffering a season-ending surgery his sophomore season.
After graduating in three years, Finley transferred to North Carolina State. (ASU recruited Finley both as a high school prospect and as a transfer).
This season’s streak is not a fluke. Finley opened last season with 139 passes without an interception, the longest stretch for a first-time starter in school history. He finished with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
This season he’s been even better.
Finley’s streak currently ranks second in school history behind Russell Wilson’s amazing run of 379 passes without a pick. It’s the fifth longest in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
So at one point did the importance of ball security sink in?
“When I was threatened that I wasn’t going to play if I kept turning the ball over,” Finley said with a laugh. “It’s something we definitely emphasize many times every week. As they say, ‘Ball security is job security.’’’
Comfort and preparation
Like many quarterbacks, Wilkins is a game-film addict, but he attributes his streak – which dates to the first quarter of last season’s Territorial Cup – to simple comfort.
“The game has slowed down a lot for me,’’ said Wilkins, in his second season of starting. “Obviously, having the experience that I’ve had, I’m just so much more comfortable. My mind is not moving as fast as it was last year. And I’m just trusting the people around me.”
ASU coach Todd Graham acknowledges Wilkins’ maturity. In just four games, coming off an injury-plagued first season, Wilkins has turned into a veteran quarterback, no easy task considering the Sun Devils have allowed more sacks (19) than any other team in the country save one.
That’s why the system plays such a big part.
“It’s more than just the quarterback, it goes into play calling,’’ Graham said. “Because if you put yourself in position where you’re getting hit, it’s going to be more challenging not to put the ball in jeopardy. The quarterback has to drive the scheme, not the coaches, (but) you have to game plan.”
Finley said 90 percent of the position is preparation. Before each game he takes a defensive formation and dissects it.
“I go through and see if I can find every single possible look that I can get against that formation on that play,” Finley said. “That’s what I’m thinking when I go up to the line of scrimmage, just going through my entire plan. If they do this, what am I doing? If they do that, what am I doing?
“And then just understanding that sometimes the best play is just throwing the ball away.”
Knowing when to take risks
Wilkins knows his role: “It’s my job to manage the football game,” he said.
But inside the ball-security shell, every quarterback is a play-maker. The trick is deciding when to take risks. For example, in last week’s win over Oregon, ASU faced 3rd-and-27 late in the third quarter.
Wilkins knew he had sophomore receiver N’Keal Harry on the outside. He knew a true freshman – 5-foot-10 Thomas Graham, Jr., — was in man coverage. Wilkins liked those odds, so he put the ball up for grabs.
Result: A 52-yard completion.
“We study personnel,’’ Wilkins said. “(The corner was) a true freshman. He’s small – a good player — but you’re going against a receiver who has experience, who has shown he can make those types of plays.”
But for the most part, both Finley and Wilkins have built their streaks by simply taking what the defense gives. It’s not sexy, but it’s effective. For Finley, that means taking “our lay-ups, the easy throws, our smart-disciplined decisions.”
And then keeping quiet about it.
“I’m getting a little tired talking about the interception thing,” Finley said. “I don’t want to jinx myself.”
Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at [email protected] Follow him at Twitter.com/DougHaller. Subscribe to the ASU Pick Six Podcast, available on iTunes. Download the ASU XTRA app for iPhone and Android.
Current streak: Most passes without an INT
1. Ryan Finley (NC State), 224.
2. Taylor Lamb (Appalachian State), 213.
3. Manny Wilkins (ASU), 188.
4. Baker Mayfield, (Oklahoma), 152.
5. Jalen Hurts, (Alabama), 151.
Source: North Carolina State media relations