CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It’s a common occurrence for Marquise Williams to linger after football practice at Navy Fields, corralling wide receivers such as Mack Hollins, Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard to sneak in extra work on the most lethal of UNC’s explosive plays: the deep ball.
Assistant head coach for offense Seth Littrell arrived in Chapel Hill 22 months ago with a penchant for vertical strikes, confirming his approach to InsideCarolina.com that spring in saying, “Yeah, I like to take shots.”
There is structure in place. Quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf instructs his position group to never throw a ball over 45 yards. The preferred distance traveled is between 35-42 yards, which serves as a parameter for both quarterback and wide receivers.
Those are the types of throws Williams tries to perfect during his post-practice sessions. He has to hit on five consecutive throws to his targets. If one pass hits the ground, the imaginary scoreboard resets to zero and the process restarts.
Williams’s performance against Duke – 23-of-35 passing, 494 passing yards, 4 TD - was the culmination of a career of refining the mechanics and mindset associated with his throwing motion.
“That display Saturday was as good as I’ve seen anywhere,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said on Monday. “If you looked at every one of those deep balls that he threw, I don’t think anybody broke stride. I don’t think anybody slowed down, I don’t think anybody sped up. It was pretty phenomenal.”
Williams connected on 5-of-6 throws of 20 yards or more against the Blue Devils after missing on 18 of his first 29 attempts from that distance in UNC’s first eight games, according to ESPN.
The fifth-year senior quarterback, who will be playing in his final home game at Kenan Stadium on Saturday, detailed several reasons for his progression, including improved decision-making and better protection upfront. There’s also the matter of his left hip, which required offseason surgery in February to repair a torn labrum.
Williams’s accuracy on deep throws last season suffered due to a limited range of motion in rotating his body. The lack of mobility hurt his throwing velocity, which resulted in the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder quarterback “baby throwing” the ball.
“Last year was more about throwing the ball and not using my legs, just my arm,” Williams said. “I look back at a lot of film like, ‘geez, that looks so sloppy as a quarterback.’ Now I can drive the football and use my hips to put more velocity on the football. There was good velocity on the ball on Saturday. It was fun just to have the time, and I’ve been having the time, in throwing the football and knowing that you can put something behind it.”
The increased velocity has allowed Williams to put more air under the ball to give his wide receivers plenty of time to adjust in route (a good example is Hollins’s TD catch at the 0:41 second mark here).
His ability to consistently connect on the deep ball against Duke resulted in 15 explosive plays, a total that surpasses any of Fedora’s previous single-game offensive marks.