The idea that an offense is nothing without a competent offensive line rings true, and it doesn’t matter how solid everyone else on that side of the ball is if the men up front can’t do their jobs. And if you’re a quarterback, you’re taking the brunt of it—and probably some of the blame—every time they come up short.
UNC quarterback Sam Howell had some ups and downs at the beginning of the 2021 season, but he’s made some individual strides this season despite the circumstances. His offensive line and supporting cast as a whole are sometimes-competent at best, looking at the season as a whole.
Howell has displayed grit all year and continued to play tough into Friday night… he had to when his O-line allowed him to get dropped a total of five times on an outing in which he completed 14-of-26 passes for 147 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His efforts on the ground accounted for just short of half of the team’s total points scored in the 34-30 loss to NC State, as he carried the ball 18 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
Things seem to work out about as well as they possibly can when the Tar Heels are able to mix in Howell in both the passing and running game, and it’s impossible to pin the fact that UNC came up short in the rivalry game all on him.
Despite the loss, Howell himself hit a significant milestone, becoming just the eighth quarterback in ACC history to throw for 10,000 or more career passing yards (10,078). It also marked his seventh game this season with 90 or more rushing yards. The only quarterback to do that in a season since 2004 is Lamar Jackson, who had eight of those games in 2016 and 10 in 2017.
And even though the Tar Heels didn’t get the outcome they were after, Howell still got them in a position to have a fighting chance in the final seconds of the game. This Hail Mary was intercepted, but it was incredibly close and could have been the game-winner if one of UNC’s receivers had won the battle.
And for everything Howell does as a rusher that’s talked about, he’s done some incredible things through the air as well.
At the conclusion of the regular season, Howell has a 62.7% completion percentage with 2,851 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, and nine interceptions to go along with 815 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on 170 carries. But let’s face it, in a situation like this, box score scouting doesn’t work. Howell’s numbers—which are still more than satisfactory—could have been higher this year if he’d just had a little help from his friends.