RALEIGH — It turns out “game manager” may not be a dirty word after all.
The term is generally thought to be a swipe — a pedestrian quarterback who takes advantage of his talented teammates to look more talented than he is often gets called one. As in: “He’s not an elite passer. He’s a game manager.”
The coach who simply rolls out the balls and lets them play. System player. Straight man. Setup guy. Game manager. They’re all dismissed, because of the talent surrounding them.
On Thursday night, however, in a raucous Carter-Finley Stadium, the game manager outplayed the Heisman trophy winner on the other side, on national TV.
Ryan Finley passed for 367 yards and a touchdown as No. 24 NC State beat No. 17 Louisville, 39-25. The Wolfpack led all the way in beating the second marquee Atlantic Division team in three weeks. Florida State has already fallen to the Pack, and Clemson looms on Nov. 4.
As a manager, Finley was more Tony LaRussa than Michael Scott. He went 20 of 31 and extended his interception-free streak to 288, the second-longest in ACC history. He also found each of his talented receivers for big plays. Finley hit Jaylen Samuels for a 79-yard gain, Kelvin Harmon for a 48-yarder and Stephen Louis for 39.
Harmon finished with 133 yards on the game, including several highlight-film catches in traffic.
“Those 50-50 balls,” Finley said, “we’ve got a lot of confidence in Kelvin, in just throwing it up and giving him a chance — not throwing it out of bounds, not throwing it too far. Just let him go up and do what he does.”
“It just comes from repetition,” Harmon said. “Just doing it all the time and just believing. Having great chemistry with Finley — he just puts the ball there.”
Samuels finished with 104 yards, giving the Pack two 100-yard receivers in a game for the first time since 2012.
“He’s a smart quarterback,” Samuels said. “He got the play calls and just went through his reads. He got playmakers the ball. He just goes out there and makes plays. Executes.”
Finley was a manager like Patton was a manager.
The media notes don’t mention any games where State had three players get 100 receiving yards, but the team came one yard short on Thursday, as Louis finished with 99.
“The guys are making really, really good plays in the pass game,” Finley said.
Finley was a manager like Steve Jobs was a manager.
“Ryan really has done what he’s done every game,” said coach Dave Doeren. “He’s consistent and he knows where to go with the football. He makes plays, keeps up in drives. He’s a great game manager and distributor of the football. He’s got great touch, (Offensive coordinator Elijah Drinkwater) has done a heck of a job coaching him. He knows exactly what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and he’s never affected by anything. That’s exactly what we want at that position.”
On ESPN’s postgame interview, Doeren described Finley in a decidedly unmanagerly way. “If we gave Ryan enough time,” he said on the field, in the aftermath, “we knew he would tear their secondary apart.”
The Pack is 3-0 for the first time in 15 years. They’ve beaten two ranked opponents for the first time since 2010 and won as a ranked team for the first time since 2006. Assuming there are no stumbles by either team in the interim, the game against Clemson should be for the Atlantic Division title.
“We’re definitely in rhythm right now, and hopefully, we can continue it,” Finley said.
In other words, NC State is managing just fine.