There have been some ups and downs but, through the first two games, the Sam Howell era at North Carolina has started about as well as possible. In both games, Howell helped lead the Tar Heels to fourth quarter come-from-behind victories over South Carolina and Miami. In doing so, Howell has put up some fairly prolific numbers, too.
According to Sports Reference, Howell is one of 23 FBS quarterbacks with at least 40 pass attempts this season, a completion rate above 62 percent and zero interceptions. He’s joined on that list by future NFL quarterbacks like Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Fields of Ohio State. It’s early, but only three other freshmen have hit those benchmarks through two games. (Fellow ACC quarterbacks Matt McKay, Jarren Williams and Jamie Newman are on that list, too.)
Howell already has 24 completions of 10+ yards this season, which means 50 percent of his pass attempts (and 77.4 percent of his completions) have gone for at least 10 yards.
During the first quarter of North Carolina’s upset win over Miami, Howell hit Dyami Brown — quickly becoming a go-to target — in stride on a 62-yard bomb.
That touchdown strike — one of just five completions in the ACC this season of 60+ yards — came against Miami’s star corner Trajan Bandy.
Howell currently ranks second in the conference with nine completions of 20+ yards, too. Virginia Tech’s Ryan Willis is tops in the ACC, currently, with 11; however, he’s attempted 27 more passes than Howell.
Brown is averaging 18.6 yards per catch on the season, which ranks seventh in the ACC. On the other side of the field, fellow wide receiver Dazz Newsome ranks fourth in the conference while averaging 20 yards per catch.
Miami Game — Sam Howell comes up clutch
Early in his career, North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo has set Howell up for success on first down. Howell has completed 17-of-21 pass attempts (81 percent) on first down this season — to go along with three touchdown passes. Five of his 17 first-down completions have gone for at least 15 yards, too.
Sam Howell just continues to impress in his first season at North Carolina. Are the Tar Heels back? pic.twitter.com/yBNkeKnYor
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 8, 2019
That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise; during the win over Miami, Howell absolutely sizzled on standard-down pass situations. Standard downs are plays when the offense could either run or pass: first downs, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer and fourth-and-4 or fewer.
According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, Howell was 11-of-15 throwing the ball on standard downs against Miami. That translated to 176 passing yards — good for an impressive 11.3 yards per attempt.
UNC 28, Miami 25
* 31% postgame win expectancy for the Heels — Miami had higher succ rt, more scoring opps, better FP, and lost
* Blown first-half chances for Miami + 4th-and-18 + Tomon Fox = unlikely win
* Both young QBs dominated on SDs and went backwards a lot on PDs pic.twitter.com/y4LcXiAlsS
— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) September 10, 2019
On these types of plays, it certainly helps that sophomore running back Javonte Williams has emerged this season, too. Williams, who ranks No. 8 in the ACC with a 6.4 yards per carry average, keeps defenses off balance.
Late Game Heroics
Of course, one of the biggest plays in this game took place late in the fourth quarter — when Howell stepped up and completed a 20-yard strike on 4th-and-17.
Less than two minutes later, Howell hit Newsome for the game-winning touchdown. And while that is the only fourth down pass attempt of Howell’s young career, he’s proven to be solid in the fourth quarter. So far, Howell has attempted 13 passes in the final quarter of games, completing 10 (77 percent) for 169 yards (13 yards per attempts) and three touchdowns.