Williams Steps Forward

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – In a season rife with criticism and controversy, Marquise Williams turned in a defining performance and nearly directed North Carolina to an improbable upset of No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday.

Williams may not be the best passer to take a snap at UNC in recent years. He may not even be the best passer on the current roster. His leadership, effort and running ability, however, offset any potential flaws at Notre Dame Stadium as he manufactured enough offense to keep UNC close until late.

Williams completed 24 of his 41 passes for 303 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for a career-high 132 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, as well as catching a 23-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Quinshad Davis.

The redshirt junior quarterback became the first Tar Heel quarterback to ever throw for 300 yards and run for 100 yards in a game. Saturday marked the second time in his career (Virginia, 2013) that he has had passing, rushing and receiving touchdowns in the same game.

“I tell you what, that guy played his heart out, now,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora told reporters following his team’s 50-43 loss. “He really gave everything he had out there.”

With UNC’s running game once again stymied by an athletic and sizable defensive front – Tar Heels not named Williams combined for 52 yards on 24 carries – the 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback gashed Notre Dame twice in the second half for big gains.

A 41-yard scamper set up Nick Weiler’s 19-yard field goal to pull UNC within 35-29 after back-to-back 11- and 28-yard runs moved the Tar Heels into Irish territory earlier in the third quarter.

“He’s something else,” wide receiver Mack Hollins said. “He’s a like a running back, a quarterback; he’s everything.”

Throughout the offseason and during the first six weeks of the season, Williams’s name has been intertwined with redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The pair split reps in spring ball and again in training camp. Once the season started, Trubisky entered the first five games for the third series, making spot appearances at random other times throughout the games.

Williams has consistently declined to be critical of the coaching decision or to suggest that the rotation has affected his offensive rhythm. On Saturday, however, it was Williams who took the field for the third series and every other thereafter.

“We were going to play it by ear and see what the feel was,” Fedora said of the decision not to play Trubisky, “and Marquise had a good feel for what was going on. He was seeing everything. We had a little bit of rhythm going, so we didn't want to interrupt that rhythm. We decided to stay with him.”

Williams agreed, saying, “I was getting into a rhythm and I was going with the flow.”

As well as Williams played, one late mistake effectively ended any chance for UNC to exit Notre Dame Stadium with an upset. Trailing 43-36 with under eight minutes to play, Williams took the snap on 3rd-and-4 at Notre Dame’s 26-yard line, scrambled to his left and shoveled a pass down the left sideline under duress.

Cornerback Cole Luke intercepted the pass on a diving play out of bounds. Ten plays later, Tarean Folston ran in from six yards out to secure the Fighting Irish’s 6-0 start.

“I wish I had just ditched it out of bounds,” Williams said. “As a quarterback, you have to know those things. But I just wanted to make a play. I was just trying to help my guy make a play and get the ball in his hands.”

Williams made plenty of plays on Saturday and gave the Tar Heels a reason to hope for a surge in the second half of the season.

“He gave us a chance,” Fedora said. “He gave his team a chance to win a football game tonight.”

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