CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk is one of five quarterbacks among Power 5 schools leading his team in both passing and rushing yards. North Carolina’s defense has some familiarity with a former member of that unique quarterback club.
UNC’s Marquise Williams was one of seven quarterbacks in 2014 to lead his team in both rushing and passing yards.
Sirk has rushed for 481 yards and three touchdowns on 105 attempts through eight games. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound signal caller has also completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,788 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.
“He’s a big guy – he’s a lot like our guy, actually,” Larry Fedora told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s a lot like ‘Quise. They’re both big and they’re physical, and they’re strong and they can run. They can beat you with their arm and they can beat you with their [feet]. For your defense, it makes it tough. When he runs the ball, he’s a big running back running the football.”
UNC’s offensive and defensive units practice solely against scout team looks during the season, so while there is some carryover for the defense, it dates back to spring ball and training camp. Even then, the Tar Heel defenders are tasked with making sure Williams remains upright.
“We don’t tackle Marquise,” linebackers coach John Papuchis said. “We don’t get that opportunity in practice. Having the opportunity to play against a guy who can make something out of nothing any time, there’s certainly a similarity there. Getting Sirk on the ground is going to be one of the challenges.”
Sirk, a redshirt junior in his first year as a starter, has steadily improved in leading Duke to a 6-2 (3-1 ACC) record. He directed the Blue Devils on a pair of scoring drives in the final 5:49 of last week’s 30-27 loss to Miami, completing 13 of his 20 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown and rushing for a 1-yard go-ahead touchdown with six seconds remaining before chaos ensued.
“He’s a big physical quarterback who has good run ability,” Papuchis said. “He’s physical as a ball carrier and he’s smart with the football. He doesn’t turn the ball over, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, so you know he’s going to be efficient. He’s not going to give you anything. You’ve got to be good tacklers on him and make sure you always account for him in the quarterback run game.”
Sirk has attempted 155 consecutive passes without an interception, dating back to a 34-20 win over Georgia Tech on Sept. 26. Duke’s coaching staff has also utilized the zone read with its quarterback more often in recent weeks. That particular play design allowed Sirk to churn out 109 rushing yards on 18 attempts at Virginia Tech two weeks ago.
“[His versatility] adds an element to any play he has,” outside linebacker Shakeel Rashad said. “If it’s a pass play, what he can do is if there’s nobody open, he can take off and run. The defensive linemen and anybody rushing, anybody in the box, has to be conscious of the fact that he can take off and run at any time. And if it’s a run play, they always have the option of letting him keep the ball, which is going to add another blocker. He can run the ball, he runs it hard and he has good field vision.”
In a rivalry game that pits a pair of dual-threat quarterbacks against stingy defenses, whichever side limits their exposure will have an inside track to controlling the Coastal Division.