There were times earlier this season when Marquise Williams, the North Carolina quarterback, watched himself on film and wondered what he was doing. Or, rather, wondered why wasn’t he doing something that has brought him so much success.
Take the Tar Heels’ 17-13 loss against South Carolina to start the season.
“You go back, you watch the film you’re like, ‘Man, dude, why didn’t you run?’” Williams said on Monday, repeating the thought he had watching himself on tape.
During UNC’s first four games Williams sometimes didn’t look like the player he was a season ago, when he exploited opposing defenses with his running ability. Then came UNC’s fifth game, a 38-31 victory against Georgia Tech in which Williams ran 15 times for a career-high 148 yards.
Part of Williams’ running success against Georgia Tech was a result of studying film of the Yellow Jackets and identifying vulnerabilities in their defense. Williams on Monday said he saw some things he liked.
“There were times everything was covered but I knew that nobody was accountable for me, from watching so much film,” Williams said. “And that just goes back to studying the defense.
“When you study the game so much you know what’s going to happen and what they’re going to do and you don’t have to think too much.”
Another part of Williams’ running success, though, came from watching himself on film and seeing things he didn’t like. He could have run more often against South Carolina, for instance. And what about the early interception he threw against Illinois?
When Williams watched that play over again this is what he said he thought: “Dude, why didn’t you run? So much grass, dude. Just run.”
Yet what really did it – what really made Williams evaluate himself – was when he saw a tweet from an old teammate. It was from Eric Ebron, the former UNC tight end who’s now in his second season in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.
During that game against Illinois, a game that turned out to be a lopsided UNC victory – and one in which Williams still ran for more than 100 yards – Ebron on Twitter wrote that Williams hadn’t been playing like his usual self.
“He said, ‘Dude, this is not the Marquise Williams I’ve been watching for like four years,’” Williams said. “That kind of got to me, because me and Ebron are (close) like that. So I was like, ‘Man, I haven’t been running.’”
Williams at one point on Monday said the word “dude” four times in a span of about 15 seconds. He used the word to punctuate his frustration with himself and to illustrate how obvious a solution running could have been to some of his early-season problems.
He used the word as if to say, “Dude, why didn’t I think of this sooner?”
Williams opened up about some of that, too. He admitted entering the season with a desire to prove that he could be more of a pocket passer – the kind who might make for an attractive NFL prospect.
“Honestly, I’ve been thinking about showing everybody I can just stay in the pocket also,” Williams said. “And just not playing my game. And a lot of people tell me, ‘Just go play your game. Do what you’ve been doing to get you here.’”
That would include a lot of running. Williams ran for 783 yards last season – most on the team – and was second in the ACC behind Florida State’s Jameis Winston in total offense.
Still, he entered this season with hopes of proving that he could beat defenses with his arm as much as his legs. During the preseason Williams spoke freely of his increased understanding of reading defenses. He felt more comfortable, he said, making quick reads in the passing game.
The desire to prove it, though, led to increased pressure. And to some questionable decisions.
“It was just thinking about what’s the future, when I need to be thinking about now,” Williams said. “Because my time is running out. My time is getting shorter. Maybe I’ve got eight weeks here left and I need to go out and have fun and just play the game. Whatever got me to this stage, I need to continue to do it.
“Don’t break it. Continue doing whatever I’ve been doing successfully.”
After a slow start in a victory against Delaware Williams watched the rest of that game from the sideline. There were questions afterward about his hold on the starting quarterback position, and Williams met with coach Larry Fedora, who urged him to play like he did most of last season.
The message seemed to resonate, at least based on what happened at Georgia Tech. Fedora said the play-calling didn’t change much, though he acknowledged Williams’ running ability allowed UNC to exploit a weakness it identified in the Yellow Jackets’ defense.
Of Williams’ 15 carries at Georgia Tech, Fedora estimated that “eight to nine were called quarterback runs.”
“And then quite a few of them were run-pass options that he has the ability to do,” Fedora said. “And that’s him taking advantage of his strengths.”
The hope – Fedora’s hope, Williams’ hope, the team’s hope – is that Williams continues to maximize his strengths. He didn’t always do that during UNC’s first four games but after studying himself and after reading that tweet from Ebron and after that meeting with Fedora, Williams went back on the run.
Wake Forest at North Carolina
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill