Sam Howell sparks UNC blowout with arm, legs

UNC quarterback Sam Howell evades Georgia State linebacker Jordan Veneziale as he runs for a touchdown during the Tar Heels’ 59-17 win Saturday in Chapel Hill. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — Late in the third quarter of UNC’s 59-17 win over Georgia State on Saturday, quarterback Sam Howell passed to tight end Kamari Morales for a 13-yard gain to North Carolina’s 38-yard line.

The completion put Howell over 300 yards for the day. That mark was a welcome sight for the Tar Heels after Howell struggled to 208 yards and three interceptions in a season-opening loss at Virginia Tech, but it was nothing new — in 27 career games, he’s now had 10 where he topped 300 yards.

What happened on the next play was something new.

Howell took the snap and, accompanied by running back Ty Chandler as a lead blocker, he went around right end. About seven yards downfield, he veered to his left, away from Chandler, and eventually reached the far sideline. Chandler arrived beside him again at the 20-yard line, along with receiver Justin Olson, and the trio crossed the goal line together for a 62-yard touchdown run by the UNC quarterback known for his arm.

The run was not only the longest of his career, it was longer than any single-game rushing performance he’d managed — his previous high for a game was 53 yards. It also put him over 100 rushing yards for the day, making him the second UNC quarterback in history to throw for 300 and run for 100 in the same game.

“Dang,” he remembered thinking on his long run. “Someone hasn’t caught me from behind yet?”

“There were about three times where I said, ‘Get down. Get down! Get, hey, great job, Sam, you’re gonna score man!’” coach Mack Brown recalled.

Howell finished with 352 passing yards and three touchdown throws to go with his 104 ground yards and two rushing scores. Going into Saturday’s game, his career rushing total in two-plus years was a mere 216 yards.

“He’s worked so hard to slim down and be more flexible,” Brown said. “And he’s so strong. I’m really, really proud of the way he runs. He escapes from the pocket some, he can run the option some. We moved him some the second half, which I thought helped, and he throws so well on the run. … He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his ability to run.”

Howell showed a flair for the big play in Saturday’s blowout of Georgia State, hitting Antoine Green for a 57-yard score and Emery Simmons for a 30-yard touchdown. He also added a 22-yard scoring run that would have made highlight reels if he didn’t nearly triple it later in the game.

Green finished with 117 yards in a breakout game for him.

“Tonight should give him confidence to move forward and be one of those receivers that we’re talking about,” Brown said.

Simmons and Josh Downs, who also had a touchdown reception, each had 73 yards.

The Tar Heels jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes of the game, eager to put last week’s disappointing loss behind them. Georgia State hung around, trailing by just two scores at 24-10 at halftime.

“They’re not gonna lay down and quit, you’re gonna have to make them. So let’s get better,” Brown told the team at the break.

The Tar Heels responded. Carolina again pressed the accelerator, putting up 21 unanswered third-quarter points to break the game open.

“The second half, really the third quarter, is who we want to be,” Brown said.

And capping that third-quarter outburst was a 62-yard run by his star quarterback that helped move Sam Howell’s game from good to historic.

“He was so proud,” Brown said. “We told him we needed to get EMS over there to get him some oxygen because he’d never run that far.”