UVa. at UNC: With Renner gone, all eyes on Marquise Williams

Nov. 08, 2013 @ 10:34 PM

When North Carolina senior quarterback Bryn Renner learned that the shoulder injury he suffered against N.C. State would require season-ending surgery, he sent a text message to backup Marquise Williams: “LEAD THE GUYS.”

Williams had become much more involved in the offense over the past four games, beginning with his start against Virginia Tech when Renner was out with a foot injury. But now the sophomore will be the unquestioned starter for the first time when the Tar Heels (3-5, 2-3 ACC) host Virginia today at Kenan Stadium (12:30 p.m., WRAL).

“Nobody’s (saying) ‘woe is me, we’re not going to be able to make it,’” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “In this sport, I mean, as physical a game as it is, guys understand everybody’s one play away and the next guy that’s why it’s so important that the next guy be ready and be prepared to go. It’s the nature of the beast in this business.”

Williams replaces a third-year starter who has the highest career pass efficiency mark (151.22) in ACC history and the highest career completion percentage (66.5) in school history. Still, the past month has made him one of the league’s most-prepared backups.

Williams faced one of the toughest defenses in one of the most hostile environments in the ACC at Virginia Tech, and completed 23 of 35 passes for 277 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Since that game, he’s become part of a two-quarterback rotation, recording an efficiency rating of 149.86 while leading the team in rushing in three of the past four games.

But even with Williams replacing Renner under center at times, he didn’t take over Renner’s leadership role. That will take some time, regardless of Renner’s text.

“He’s still the leader to me and that’s regardless if he’s hurt or not,” Williams said. “I’m still going to ask him what to do. They’re going to say it’s my team but this is his team.”

Williams should be helped by a resurgent Tar Heels defense. After giving up at least 27 points in each loss, UNC has only allowed one touchdown to both Boston College and N.C. State during the current two-game winning streak.

The defensive front has generated more pressure, while the secondary has improved its communication. Both factors have kept the Tar Heels from giving up the big plays that plagued them earlier in the season, and should keep Williams from having to play from behind.

Williams seems to have gotten a schedule break by starting against Virginia (2-7, 0-5), which has lost six straight games, five by double-digits. But the Cavaliers blitz more than half the time under former UNC defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, putting the quarterback under even more pressure than usual.

Fedora acknowledged that the coaches have discussed cutting back on designed runs in order to keep Williams healthy — new No. 2 Kanler Coker, a redshirt freshman, hasn’t taken a collegiate snap — he said the game plan wouldn’t change.

“We’re not going to play scared,” Fedora said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”

NOTES — This is the 118th meeting between the teams in what is knows as the “Oldest Rivalry of the South.” The only series that have been played more often are Minnesota-Wisconsin (122) and Kansas-Missouri (120). … UNC is looking to beat Virginia for the fourth consecutive season, which would be its longest winning streak in the series since winning nine straight from 1974-82. The Tar Heels have not won consecutive games against the Cavs at Kenan Stadium since 1995 and 1997. … Sophomore Quinshad Davis tied an ACC record with 16 catches last season at Virginia.