CHAPEL HILL — Earlier in the week, North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner announced that he would definitely be back for Thursday’s game against Miami, as the foot injury that caused him to miss the Oct. 5 Virginia Tech game was no longer an issue.
Turns out Marquise Williams, his replacement, wasn’t going anywhere either.
For the first time this season, the Tar Heels used a two-quarterback rotation extensively, and the offensive seemed to flow more effectively than it had in weeks past. Ultimately, though, the 500 yards of total offense weren’t enough to prevent a last-second Miami comeback, as the No. 10 Hurricanes stole a 27-23 win from the Tar Heels.
The coaching staff had predetermined that Williams would run an early series for the Tar Heels. On other drives, UNC called plays that used a package specifically for Williams that was interspersed into primarily Renner-led drives. Williams serving as a change of pace to Renner, who at one point completed 15 straight passes to set a new school single-game record and did handle the majority of snaps in the second half.
“We worked on it all week. He did a great job with his packages,” Renner said. “We managed that really well. He obviously got off to a hot start, hitting (Eric) Ebron with that touchdown. It was good for both of us, and it was good for our offense
Williams had played well enough in the 27-17 loss to the Hokies, completing 66 percent of his passes and throwing for 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns and interceptions apiece (with an additional 56 yards rushing). Leading up to the game against the Hurricanes, Williams said he was fine going back to the bench, he would do whatever the team needed. But that wasn’t exactly what head coach Larry Fedora and his offensive staff had in mind, at least for the first half of play.
Renner finished 28-of-36 (77.8 percent) for 297 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Williams, who did not attempt a pass in the second half, finished 4-of-7 (57.1 percent) for 98 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Williams also rushed for 27 yards on five carries.
Renner started the game and promptly led the Tar Heels on a three-and-out drive. UNC found some rhythm on its next possession, thanks to two T.J. Logan runs that resulted in a first down and then a 20-yard completion from Renner to tight end Eric Ebron. As the offense ran down to the Miami 32-yard line, Williams left the sideline and entered the game. He promptly threw an interception on his first pass attempt, overthrowing his intended receiver, Bug Howard, in the end zone.
That was the only major quarterback miscue of the first half, though, and head coach Larry Fedora kept with his quarterback rotation. Renner played the Tar Heels’ following series (another three-and-out), and, with Miami holding a 3-0 lead, Williams started as the quarterback on UNC’s fourth series.
On the second play of the drive, second-and-5 from the UNC 29-yard line, Williams found Ebron on a slant, and the UNC tight end shed two Miami tacklers at his own 48-yard line before picking up a block from Quinshad Davis and running the rest of the way down the right sideline into the end zone. The 71-yard completion was the longest play of the season for the Tar Heels, and it put them ahead 7-3.
Renner was the quarterback on the Tar Heels’ next scoring drive, as he found Davis in the right corner of the end zone to put the Tar Heels back ahead 14-13, and later Williams led UNC on a 12-play, 60 yard drive to give the Tar Heels a 17-13 halftime lead.
In the second half, though, the Tar Heels sputtered too often at the end of drives, settling for three field goals. And that let the Hurricanes hang around and be in position to end the game with a 90-yard touchdown drive and win.
The extended role for Williams will likely remain for the rest of the season.
“It added another dimension to the offense,” Fedora said. “The guys handled the flow very well. I don’t think that hindered either guy or hinder the offense. I actually think it added to what we did.”
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley