After this season, UNC football's star junior quarterback Sam Howell is likely headed to the NFL, and he’s going to have to pass the torch to someone else.
In North Carolina's 34-14 win against Wofford on Saturday, the team got a glimpse of its future behind center. Sophomore Jacolby Criswell and first-year Drake Maye took over the reins with Howell out due to a shoulder injury.
Head coach Mack Brown decided to let the two quarterbacks split the reps, with Criswell playing the entire first half and Maye taking over in the second.
“We’ve got a perfect setup for a quarterback controversy going forward, and everybody loves that," Brown said. "So, it couldn’t be better going into next year. I really felt good about both of them."
Criswell showed off his skillset from the very first plays. His first snap under center resulted in a 12-yard bullet to graduate tight end Garrett Walston. Immediately after, he showed off his wheels and darted past Wofford defenders to get 16 yards. To top it all off, he put UNC on the board with a touchdown off a QB run.
Criswell finished his first start as a Tar Heel with 125 passing yards as well as 66 yards on the ground along with a rushing touchdown. Despite not throwing an interception or fumbling the ball, his day wasn’t all perfect.
Throughout his stint in the game, Criswell’s passing accuracy floundered, overthrowing or missing his receivers at times. This was evidenced in his 58 percent completion percentage and plays such as his throw to sophomore wide receiver Justin Olson. Early in the second quarter on third down, Criswell overthrew an open Olson who was clean off his man, leading to UNC’s only punt of the game.
“I’d like to take back the throws, me throwing those balls, the balls that I just completely missed,” Criswell said. “All the guys had full confidence in me, and they were all surprised when I missed those balls.”
Criswell’s replacement in the second half, Maye, showed off his skillset from the very onset as well. Back to back, on his third play, he found sophomore wide receiver Josh Downs for a gain of four and then Olson for a gain of 11. On the next drive, facing a second down and 14, Maye showed off his legs, using his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to dash past defenders and move the chains for an 18-yard gain.
Like his predecessor in the game, Maye’s play had blemishes as well. Just after his 18-yard scamper, he took a sack that lost four yards, although he decided to run out of bounds and take the “sack” and the loss of yards rather than just throwing the ball away.
“Coach (Phil) Longo always preaches just stay within the play and one play at a time and I think that’s best thing going into each game,” Maye said. “I just try to go out there and make the most of the possessions and have fun.”
Even though neither quarterback had a “perfect” game, both showed their potential and their respective skillsets.
So, if Sam Howell does leave for the NFL Draft, the fans of North Carolina can be confident that his successor is waiting in the wings and has the capability to fill his shoes.
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