{{ timeAgo('2019-09-13 23:21:29 -0500') }} football Edit

Reset Button Helps Howell Regroup For UNC's Push

Sam Howell found himself on the bench late in the first half, but it may have been exactly what he needed.
Sam Howell found himself on the bench late in the first half, but it may have been exactly what he needed. (Jenna Miller, THI)

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - After being the catalyst behind consecutive fourth-quarter comeback wins in North Carolina’s opening two games, freshman quarterback Sam Howell had a first half to forget in the Tar Heels’ 24-18 loss to Wake Forest on Friday night at BB&T Field.

“I was playing like a true freshman early on,” Howell said.

Through the first seven drives of the game, Howell was 5-for-10 with 15 yards passing and had been sacked three times. This prompted the UNC coaching staff to put in redshirt freshman Jace Ruder, who hadn’t played yet this season.

Howell understood the move.

“I wasn’t getting the job done, we weren’t moving the ball on offense,” he said. “We thought Jace could go in there and give the offense a spark but at the end of the day I’ve just got to do a better job.”

The change did little to spark the Tar Heels’ offense, however, as Ruder ran for 28 yards on three attempts and completed one of two pass attempts. He was also sacked once.

What it did do was give Howell a chance to exhale, watch the game from a different vantage point and sort of hit a reset button. He regrouped going into the second half.

Howell and the Heels struggled in the first half.
Howell and the Heels struggled in the first half. (Jenna Miller, THI)

The freshman led UNC’s offense to 18 unanswered points by the 6:09 mark in the fourth quarter and finished the game 17-for-28 with 182 yards and two touchdowns. Howell looked more comfortable in the pocket, delivered the ball to his receivers with more confidence and made plays his teammates have become accustomed to seeing from him.

“Sam, he’s a coach's kid, he’s tough as nails,” UNC Coach Mack Brown said. “He’ll be really critical of himself and I want him to take that he had enough about him to hang in there in a really tough environment and comeback and give us a chance to win the game.”

Brown’s comments show how much faith he has in his starting quarterback, and even after a performance in the first half Howell would like to forget, he’s still got the backing of his peers moving forward, too.

“I think he kept his head...,” junior running back Michael Carter said. “Credit to Sam for coming back in the game and being ready to play.”

Howell performed so well in the first two games he rarely looked like the true freshman he is, but while he looked the part of a rookie Friday, he showed something working through it.