Gunslingers are typified by having cannon-like arms – and using those to force passes into tight windows, resulting in a higher number of interceptions. The classic, stock signal caller is Brett Favre, who finished with 508 touchdowns to 336 interceptions; more traditional, non-gunslingers like Joe Montana (273 TDs, 139 INT) and Tom Brady (386 TDs, 143 INT) have much better ratios, though they lacked the howitzer-like range. All three had completions percentages between 62 and 63.6.
Howard seems to more fit the mold of the latter pair in terms of ball security and not forcing passes that could be intercepted. At the major collegiate level, the junior has 13 touchdowns to no interceptions, and has completed 57.8 percent of his passes. Howard’s been so good at protecting possession that a current ratio is incalculable; to match even Brady’s astounding 2.7 ratio of touchdowns against interceptions, Howard would have to throw five picks prior to another score.
“In high school I didn’t throw a lot of interceptions,” Howard said. “In (Riverside Community College) in California, a big emphasis was taking care of the football and really understanding what coach wanted out there. I think I threw 30-some touchdowns and three interceptions; it has always been a big emphasis on my game.
“I’m not going to be gun shy. I’m going to put it in there when I can. But the No. 1 priority is always taking care of the ball. Taking care of the football always trumps. It’s understanding down and distance and situation in the game and how much time is left on the clock and how many points. It’s all taken into account.”
The actual numbers at Riverside were 33 touchdowns against six interceptions, and a 67.4 percent completion rate for 3,151 yards. That’s a rate of 5.5 TDs per interception, which would, on a very different level, place him above even NFL all-time leader Aaron Rodgers’ 4.0 ratio. More comparatively, only four FBS quarterbacks have a better ratio than Howard’s 5-0 this season, and just 11 players have more touchdown passes.
“He’s operating efficiently, that’s the main thing,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “It’s why I bought into him in the offseason. Looking back at the turnover percentage in all the snaps he took as a sophomore, it was better than anybody I’ve ever coached. That was the number one thing with me.”
Howard certainly has portions of his play that resemble the gunslinger. He’s fearless, but without the typical reckless abandon. He can extend plays and pocket protection with his feet, and he’ll throw on the run. He also drilled a couple throws to Daikiel Shorts in the midrange game that were in tight windows and called for some added push on the pass. He’s confident, and his personality mimics that of what one conjures when considering the gunslinger. But Howard doesn’t go looking for trouble, and that’s a huge key for this West Virginia team, which can ride that and a stout defense to wins.
“You always want the big play, but you have to take what the defense gives you,” said Howard, who has connected on 37-of-51 passes this season, a 72.5 completion percentage. “We did a good job as a team doing that (against Liberty).”