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Fresh Princes of the ACC: How Two Freshman QBs Represent the future of the Coastal Division

Could 2019 be the year of the freshmen?

Florida v Miami

The first official week of college football was as informative as it was entertaining. After a long offseason, fans finally caught more than a glimpse of the “new and improved” version of their respective rooting interests. A common theme that kept rising to the surface — apart from missed tackles — was freshmen starting at quarterback. We saw Bo Nix lead Auburn to a come-from-behind win against Oregon and Boise State’s true freshman QB Hank Bachmeier led his team to a comeback win against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium.

QB Sam Howell was expected to be under center for the Seminoles last Saturday. The North Carolina native was committed to the Noles for much of his recruiting process until a change of heart convinced him to stay closer to home, flipping his pledge to Mack Brown and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Similar to his freshmen peers, Howell and the Heels were down a couple points coming out of halftime to neighboring rivals South Carolina. UNC’s offense thrived with short passes and established a strong run game in the first half, although settled for just a pair of field goals entering halftime down 13-6. Doing good work with his legs and arms coming out of the intermission, Howell propelled UNC to 20 unanswered points after beginning the third quarter with a three-and-out. Despite taking a questionable knee on fourth down to give the South Carolina the ball at midfield with 11 seconds left in the game, their defense stood tall to secure the win.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Belk College Kickoff - South Carolina v North Carolina Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Behind Mack Brown’s postgame tears, he knew that the Tar Heels had found their answer savior at QB.

The Miami Hurricanes feel like they’ve found their quarterback of the future in redshirt freshman Jarren Williams. Just don’t ask offensive coordinator/QB coach Dan Enos, who was critical of the promising pivot’s performance after a week zero loss to Florida. Regardless of Enos’ opinion, many Miami fans are optimistic that Williams has the intangibles necessary to help the team make a significant push in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2019.

That quest begins in primetime on the road at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Standing in their way is a confident freshman aiming to remain undefeated in his brief college career.

Both freshmen signal-callers are buoyed by a talented supporting cast that makes game days much more manageable. We’ve already addressed the stern parent of UM that is Dan Enos who holds QB play to high standard — no wonder Nick Saban liked him so much! UM coach Manny Diaz has the landscape view of the program and has applauded the progress made by his team from spring to now. As any Hurricane fan can point out, Williams is surrounded with skill talent at receiver and tight end who can produce a lethal passing attack.

Florida v Miami
From left to right: #2 KJ Osborn, #4 Jeff Thomas, #13 DeeJay Dallas, #3 Mike Harley and #15 Jarren Williams.

A common theme among the success of the freshmen quarterbacks highlighted earlier was that each of their respective offenses generated a successful running game. Boise State rushed for 214 rushing yards, wearing down the Noles’ defense on the humid Florida afternoon. Auburn put up 206 rushing yards on Oregon to force the Ducks to honor the run as opposed to continually tee off on the Tigers’ young signal caller. New UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo got the memo as well, with North Carolina handing the ball off to rush for 238 yards — three RBs even had greater than 4.0 yards-per-carry. Howell’s 10 carries for six yards in the box score doesn’t appear threatening. As a defense, honoring a dual-threat passer is always a priority. It’s why UNC coach Mack Brown stated postgame, “For us to win, we’ve got great running backs, but people are going to stack the box unless we can throw the ball outside. And we also felt in the second half they were pressing us. [...] they were daring us to throw the football.”

As much as Canes’ fans will want Jarren Williams to put his arm talent on full display, the legs of Deejay Dallas, Cam’ron Harris and perhaps Lorenzo Lingard will be just as important. That means UM’s offensive line will need to illustrate significant improvement from their season debut two weeks ago. Outside of the quarterbacks, Zion Nelson and John Campbell will be the most scrutinized freshmen. What we’re trying to say is that while we have confidence in the talents of Jarren Williams, if the Canes are to achieve their first win of the season, they’ll need to employ a balanced approach.

“I feel like, that was my first college game so, having that experience now having that understanding how things go in a game, with the play clock, all the different things how things work. I feel I will be a lot more prepared now going into my second game and expect to play a lot better.”

Jarren Williams

Williams’ counterpart has the youthful enthusiasm that is natural for a confident QB. After South Carolina adjusted their defense to stymy the Tar Heels’ rushing attack, the game fell on the arm of Sam Howell. With favorable matchups on the perimeter of the field, the young QB picked apart the Gamecocks’ defense. Howell stated after the game that “I have faith in those guys [UNC’s wide receivers]. You say 50-50, I would say 80-20. So you know if they got a little space I’m [going to] get the ball to them and let them make a play.” Showing confidence in his arm as much as his receivers. It’s that strong belief from the Heels and Canes that will make Saturday so entertaining.

For Sam Howell and Jarren Williams, they enter the weekend shorthanded in the experience department. Combined, they have started just two games. That won’t matter at kickoff as the Hurricanes and Tar Heels renew hostilities inside Kenan Memorial Stadium at 8pm on Saturday. Miami Hurricanes’ QB Jarren Williams and North Carolina’s QB Sam Howell will attempt to one-up each other to lead their respective teams to a much needed win to open conference play. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence currently occupies the king’s throne in the ACC, but a pair of frosh princes are putting the college football world on notice.