Howard Coach Steve Wilson repeatedly warned observers of the Bison's preseason training camp not to underestimate new starting quarterback Bobby Townsend. While the 6-foot-6, 230-pound redshirt junior never had started a college game and caught more than he threw last season, his raw ability made Wilson shake his head in wonder.
Even Wilson, however, wouldn't have predicted Townsend's quick development, which has been the Bison's most pleasant surprise so far this season. He stepped into the spotlight last weekend, and saved Howard from an 0-3 record by throwing three touchdown passes in the final nine minutes of a 31-27 comeback victory over Bethune-Cookman.
Townsend knew Howard's system heading into the season, having been a backup quarterback and backup wide receiver the past two years (he made 11 receptions last season, and just four pass attempts). Before the season, however, Wilson said he hoped the running game would carry Howard's offense until Townsend had time to adjust to his new role.
But because they have trailed early in every game, the Bison have needed Townsend to throw the ball as much as his record-setting predecessor, Ted White, did. The Bison have gained 413 yards rushing in three games, and Townsend has completed 50 of 125 passes for 838 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. Those aren't Ted White-type statistics--at least not from an efficiency standpoint--but Townsend doesn't mind the comparison.
"Being compared to Ted, he's a great player, so that's fine with me," Townsend said. "But this win does a world of good for my confidence, and I think it does a lot for other people's confidence, too."
Townsend's teammates have believed in him from the start. When asked about Townsend before the season, running back Jermaine Hutchinson laughed and said not to worry. Starting left tackle Levar Young also smiled, and provided the most prophetic answer.
"If we can get off to a good start, and he can get into the comfort zone, then we'll be fine," Young said.
Howard hasn't gotten off to a good start, but when Townsend found a comfort zone last Saturday, the Bison took off.
With Howard trailing, 27-10, Wilson said he worked with Townsend and wide receiver Elijah Thurmon to literally draw up "three plays in the dirt on the sideline" to spark the Bison's lifeless offense.
After Townsend threw two touchdown passes to make it 27-24, Howard got the ball back with 2 minutes 3 seconds left. The Bison drove to the Bethune-Cookman 35-yard line, where Townsend was supposed to look for Thurmon on an out-and-up pattern.
When a Bethune-Cookman defensive back took away Thurmon's first move out to the sideline, Wilson cringed because he thought that would ruin the play. However, Townsend stayed calm in the pocket and faked a throw to give the defensive back something more to think about, and Thurmon more time to get open downfield.
Townsend then floated a perfect pass to Thurmon for the winning touchdown. Townsend's patience on that play was a nice surprise for Wilson.
"He knows every route, he knows every adjustment," said Wilson, who attributed some of that knowledge to Townsend's time at wide receiver last season. "I've had some good quarterbacks, but I've not had one who has the perception of [so much of the offense and the field]. He'll get better and better and better."
Making Townsend's performance even more impressive is that he has played despite a sprained ankle and a sore throwing hand that has become so badly swollen at times that he can't throw a spiral.
Wilson said engineering last weekend's comeback likely will put Townsend on a higher plane with his teammates.
"This puts Bobby at a new level," Wilson said. "It seems like he's a third- and fourth-quarter guy. He took control, he called a lot of those plays, he made suggestions and he never got down. He graduated with this one."