CHAPEL HILL (AP) — North Carolina is starting the post-Bryn Renner era at quarterback much earlier than it had hoped.
With Renner done for the year following shoulder surgery, the Tar Heels (3-5, 2-3 ACC) are putting their flickering bowl hopes in the hands of Marquise Williams, starting with today’s visit from slumping Virginia (2-7, 0-5).
Renner, a fifth-year senior, had started all but one game for the Tar Heels since the start of the 2011 season but separated his left shoulder during last week’s win at North Carolina State.
He ended his career as the school’s most accurate passer and ranked among the career leaders in touchdown passes, yards passing, completions and attempts.
He had been rotating with Williams during the past few weeks, but now the job is all Williams’.
“I feel OK about our transition without” Renner, offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. “I think guys have prepared. I’m glad we’ve got Marquise as many reps as we’ve gotten him. And that’s part of the reason we did. You just felt the chips were going to fall at some point one way or the other … You just felt like you needed to have them both ready.”
Williams is 40 of 66 for 537 yards and six touchdowns, and his passer rating of 149.86 is better than Renner’s 139.94. He added 201 yards rushing and a touchdown and brings another dimension to the Tar Heels’ offense.
That’s just one more thing for a beleaguered Virginia team to worry about. The Cavaliers — who have lost six straight — are assured of their fifth losing season in six years.
Coach Mike London says his team isn’t giving up on this season.
But with a week off ahead, part of the focus is on “the continued development not only of the freshmen we already have but even those guys that are not in the mix of playing that we have to continue to develop other players.
“So we’re going to prepare to win, and whoever we need to put in that position to win, but understanding, as well, you want to be able to develop these players,” he added.
Five things to know about the renewal of the ACC’s oldest rivalry:
BOWL HOPES: North Carolina needs to win three of its final four games to return to the postseason after an NCAA-mandated one-year absence in 2012. The path is manageable: After this week, the Tar Heels — who have won two straight against Boston College and N.C. State — face Pittsburgh, Old Dominion and rival Duke to close the year. Coach Larry Fedora says his players don’t feel like they’ve turned the corner from that dreadful 1-5 start because “our focus is on being 1-0, finding a way to get it done each week. … We’re not going to change our approach, no matter what happens.”
SWITZER’S LAND: Williams has the second-worst passer rating on the team because three non-quarterbacks have completed their only attempts — and two of those have gone for touchdowns. WR Quinshad Davis has a rating of 698.80 following his 32-yard scoring pass to T.J. Thorpe in the East Carolina loss, but the play of the year came from freshman WR Ryan Switzer. His 59-yard TD pass to Davis last week against N.C. State — the team’s second-longest this season — gave him a rating of 925.60.
UVA’S DEPLETED D: North Carolina’s offense shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against the Cavaliers because they rank in the bottom third of the league in each of the four major team stat categories. Virginia is the only ACC team allowing more than 30 points per game, ranks 12th in total defense (417.8 ypg) and has given up at least 450 total yards in five straight games.
BIG DAY FOR DAVIS: The Cavaliers hope they can find a way to stop Davis because they certainly couldn’t last year. He tied an ACC record with 16 catches — the most by an opponent in Virginia history — in a 37-13 rout in 2012. He has played a role in nine of North Carolina’s 37 passes of 20-plus yards, catching eight and throwing one.
OFFENSE MATTERS: In most years, the winner of the Virginia-North Carolina game is the team with the best offense. The winning team has outrushed the loser in 55 of the past 70 meetings and has had the edge in total offense 56 times. The loser has outgained the winner just seven times since 1975, though it did happen three times since 2007.