It was a tall order he’d face.
North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams was coming back to Charlotte – his hometown – and to Bank of America stadium – a place he struggled mightily three months ago – to face top-ranked Clemson for the ACC Championship Saturday night.
If he played well and his team won, it would be a chance to redeem himself and make the committee’s job a little harder on figuring out whether UNC was worthy to make the College Football Playoff.
But Clemson was just too much for Williams and the Tar Heels, winning 45-37.
“Yeah, it’s tough, coming back into my hometown not being able to get a win,” Williams said. “I’m excited the way we fought today. A lot of people thought we were going to come out here and just lay an egg but we didn’t. We came out and fought to the end. That’s what I love about this team. So what I didn’t win. I like the outcome of my team.”
Williams’ performance in Saturday’s loss to Clemson, was much different than the Sept. 3 loss to South Carolina.
In September, Williams threw ill-advised passes that went for interceptions. Those passes were more of mental mistakes.
Saturday night, however, Clemson’s defense brought the heat, constantly pressuring the fifth-year senior, making it hard for him to find receivers who were often open.
Williams threw 11 of 33 passes for 224 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception against the Tigers.
“Those are guys that get after you,” Williams said. “They were big physical and fast, and credit goes out to the defense. They played one heck of a game tonight, and it was fun to go against good competition.”
So good that running back Elijah Hood said the Tigers were the best team he’d ever faced.
He said the Clemson defensive line used different stunts and blitz schemes to throw them off.
“I’m not going to lie, that was a very good football team and we’re a very good football team,” Hood said. “For them to come out there and earn a victory like that, yeah, they are the number one team in the country.”
UNC started the second half fast, moving the ball down field with runs and a 25-yard pass to Mack Hollins that got the Tar Heels down to Clemson’s 16 yard line. Down by four points they were threatening to score.
But as Williams dropped back to pass the ball, it was slightly tipped at the line and intercepted by Clemson’s top corner Cordea Tankersley at their own 3-yard line.
Clemson ended up scoring 12 plays later, taking the ball 98 yards down field.
“So that’s really a 14-point swing,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said.
Fedora said he was sure UNC would score on that drive if the ball wasn’t tipped.
It was probably one of the biggest plays of the night, because it shifted the momentum back to Clemson. After UNC got the ball back, they ended up punting. Clemson took over again and scored on a 30-yard touchdown from Clemson’s Deshaun Watson to wide receiver Artavis Scott to put Clemson up 35-16 with 4:58 left in the third quarter.
From there, UNC never got closer than eight points.