CHAPEL HILL (AP) — North Carolina has gone from relying almost entirely on Bryn Renner at quarterback to using a two-QB system with the addition of Marquise Williams.
Williams’ role has steadily increased in recent games, giving the Tar Heels a run-pass threat heading into Saturday’s trip to rival North Carolina State. It’s no coincidence that UNC (2-5, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) is coming off two of its best offensive performances of the season, including last weekend’s 34-10 win against Boston College.
“Each week it’s gotten a little bit cleaner,” offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. “There really weren’t any mistakes in terms of the communication or transition (against BC). As long as we keep doing that, it’ll be effective for us.”
Williams, a sophomore from Charlotte, made his first career start at Virginia Tech while Renner sat out with a foot injury, throwing for 277 yards and two touchdowns to go with 56 yards rushing. Renner, a three-year starter, has returned to take the majority of the snaps, but the Tar Heels have increased Williams’ workload.
Williams has attempted 15 passes and thrown for pair of touchdowns over the past two games. He also averaged nearly 7 yards per carry and ran for a score. Compare that to earlier this season, when Williams got a combined three rushes and one pass attempt through the first four games. And Williams heard defensive players calling out that the Tar Heels were going to run the ball — likely with Williams on a keeper — the moment he ran onto the field in those early games.
“We weren’t taking advantage of everything he had to offer,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “Now he has complete control of everything that we do out there. I don’t think anybody’s saying that anymore.”
Williams said he’s steadily gained confidence with the additional reps. And he senses the coaches’ confidence rising, too.
“You’ve just got to put belief in the coach,” Williams said. “And that’s one thing — they’re starting to believe in me. I just worked hard in what I need to improve at. That’s passing the football and accuracy to make them believe.”
Williams’ expanded role has given N.C. State (3-4, 0-4) plenty to prepare for this weekend.
“Early he was more of a runner in a run package,” Wolfpack defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. “Now they’re mixing it up more with him running and throwing. But you still have to be ready for the runs with him.
“We’ve studied them all, we’ve worked them both, we’re conscious of them and we’re communicating about it. Now we’ve got to go out and play and defend it.”
So far, at least, the change has provided a spark to an offense that hasn’t moved at the same high-scoring pace as last year’s record-setting run.
In the first game with Williams taking a larger role behind Renner, the Tar Heels racked up 500 total yards — their best total in a month — in a 27-23 loss to unbeaten Miami. Last weekend’s 34-point showing was North Carolina’s best output since scoring 40 in the win against Middle Tennessee on Sept. 7. And Williams’ mobility has helped ease some of the pressure on an offensive line that lost three players to the NFL draft in April.
“It’s been good because it’s working,” senior tailback A.J. Blue said. “And anytime it’s working, you want to continue doing it. It rubs guys the right way. It hasn’t rubbed anybody the wrong way from what I can see. As long as it continues to work, I think guys will feel good about it.”