CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Quinshad Davis was not expecting his fourth career touchdown pass following Georgia Tech’s lost fumble near midfield on Saturday. He had played the previous possession, and Bug Howard was due to rotate in at split end.
UNC offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, sensing an opportunity for his offense to complete a 21-point rally, called the play with 11:35 remaining. Larry Fedora received the call over his headset and told his senior wide receiver to take the field for what has become a perfect trick play.
Davis received the ball on a reverse and connected with a wide open Marquise Williams for a 37-yard touchdown and a 31-28 lead.
“Man, every time we call that play,” Davis said after the game, “I’m thinking touchdown.”
He should. After all, Davis is 4-for-4 with four passing touchdowns to his credit.
UNC set up in a 3x1 formation to the left side with Davis split out wide, wide receiver Ryan Switzer in the slot and tight end Brandon Fitts attached. Running back T.J. Logan was aligned to the right of Williams.
At the snap, Williams simulated an outside zone read with Logan, who took the handoff and ran horizontally along the line of scrimmage. Davis took several steps down the field to sell the block before retreating to receive the ball on the reverse.
Davis’s cue was wide receiver Mack Hollins on the opposite side of the field. Hollins ran a post route, taking the cornerback and safety along with him, thereby vacating the right side of the field.
Williams’s job after the handoff was to shuffle his feet and be patient before sprinting down the right side of the field. He was keeping his eye on Georgia Tech safety Demond Smith (No. 12), who was lined up behind the weakside defensive end and responsible for the right flat.
“He looked at me, and I thought he was coming to me, and I was like, ‘No, no, no,’” Williams said. “He actually just took off to the sweep, and then there I go, I was wide open. I was in heaven.”
Williams caught the ball at the 10-yard-line and scored untouched. Once he realized he was all alone when the ball was in the air, the fifth-year senior quarterback had just one thought: “Don’t drop this ball.”
“The ball was in the air for a good 15 seconds,” he said. “I was like, if I drop this, I am not allowed to go back to UNC. I’ll walk back to Chapel Hill. No ride on the airplane or anything.”
UNC practices a variation of this trick play three times a week. Once on Tuesday, another time of Wednesday with defensive adjustments to force Davis to keep the ball or throw it away, and then on Thursday to polish.
“If the play works out like it’s supposed to, and ‘Quise is wide open, that’s an easy throw for me,” Davis said.
UNC ran the trick play out of its diamond formation against East Carolina in 2013 when Davis connected with T.J. Thorpe for a 32-yard touchdown pass. Against Notre Dame last year, Davis lined up in the slot before taking the reverse and finding Williams for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Saturday’s conversion was out of the same formation that UNC used against Virginia in 2013, when Davis connected with Williams for a 29-yard touchdown pass. There was one slight adjustment, as Davis did not sell the block down the field in the Virginia score. By adding several steps to Davis’s job on Saturday, UNC allowed the play plenty of time to develop.
“I think that play right now for us is 100 percent,” Fedora said on Saturday. “We’ve used it multiple times through the past three years. We hit them with the fumble, which was the turning point in the game. And then while you’ve got them on their heels, we came back at them with that big play.”