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UNC quarterback competition continues, into the season

By Andrew Carter
acarter@newsobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/31/18/27/lUM3e.Em.138.jpeg|192
    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
    UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) rushes for 12 yards and a first down in the first quarter against Liberty on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/31/18/27/7IQc0.Em.138.jpeg|348
    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
    UNC quarterback Marquise Williams celebrates on the bench after tailback Charles Brunson scored a touchdown late in the game giving the Tar Heels' 56-29 victory over Liberty on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/31/18/27/QEl9R.Em.138.jpeg|205
    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
    UNC quarterbacks Marquise Williams (12) and Mitch Trubisky (10) pose for a photograph during the Tar Heels' practice on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 at Navy Field in Chapel Hill.

CHAPEL HILL Marquise Williams said he found out on Saturday but his smile, a mischievous kind of smile, told a different story.

Williams, the junior quarterback at North Carolina, tried to keep up the act, though. And so he said it again, that he found out not long before the Tar Heels played Liberty on Saturday that he would start at quarterback – that he learned just that day he'd won the months-long competition with Mitch Trubisky.

But then he started laughing, and the truth came out. Eventually.

“I found out like about two weeks ago, to be honest with you guys,” Williams said. “I just had to keep it under cover. We're doing what the coaches love to do, keep things under cover and have some fun with it. It had you guys guessing, didn't it?”

It did, in some ways, but coach Larry Fedora's decision to start Williams was predictable. In doing so, Fedora went with the more experienced, seasoned player – Williams started six games last season – over one who'd never played in a college game.

The way Fedora used both quarterbacks on Saturday night wasn't too much of a surprise, either. Williams started UNC's 56-29 victory against Liberty, but Trubisky came in on the third offensive series and the two rotated from then on, though Williams played more.

The rotation was a clear sign that, while Williams is the starter, for now, Trubisky will have his chances, too. Fedora said afterward that neither quarterback had really separated from the other, even after they'd competed for weeks in the spring, and for nearly a month in the preseason.

“The decision was we felt like coming out of camp that (Williams) deserved to start,” Fedora said. “I mean, we felt like because of his experience and that neither one of them had really separated from the other that he would get to start and we knew Mitch was going to play.

“And he was going to play to get meaningful reps, not just mopping up at the end.”

Fedora on Saturday said some nice things about Williams and Trubisky. He sounded pleased, overall. He said both had done a good job of “managing the game.”

Neither one, though, gave the kind of performance that was indicative of Fedora's laudatory descriptions of both throughout the preseason. Williams, who was UNC's quarterback for 49 offensive plays, completed 19 of his 29 attempts for 169 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for two other touchdowns.

Trubisky, a redshirt freshman who arrived at UNC a heralded prospect, was the quarterback on 35 plays and completed 10 of his 16 attempts for 66 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He gained seven yards rushing, while Williams, one of UNC's leading rushers last season, ran for 52.

Williams is the more experienced player, and his experience showed on Saturday. At least, it showed relative to Trubisky's inexperience. Williams seemed more comfortable escaping pressure and the offense, overall, was more effective when he was in the game.

Of UNC's 10 series with Williams at quarterback, four ended in touchdowns – including two that came during the decisive stretch when the Tar Heels scored four touchdowns in less than four minutes in the third quarter. Trubisky was the quarterback on eight series, and two of them ended in touchdowns.

Williams' mistakes, meanwhile, proved more costly. He threw two interceptions on under-thrown passes that, had they been on target, could have resulted in significant gains. The first came on a long attempt to Ryan Switzer early in the first quarter. On the second, Williams didn't put enough on a pass he intended for Quinshad Davis in the third quarter.

“Sometimes I feel like I don't want to overthrow guys because I have a strong arm,” Williams said. “And I can work on things. I'm going to come back, have a short (memory) and keep having fun.

In the final moments on Saturday, the outcome already long decided, both Williams and Trubisky watched from the sideline while Kanler Coker, the Tar Heels' third-string quarterback, played on. Neither Williams nor Trubisky were needed in the final moments though, if it had been close, it seems likely Williams would have played.

Their competition reached one end point with the start of the season but now it continues, and does so amid games that count. Fedora said he and his staff would study what Williams and Trubisky did well, and what they didn't, and that “we'll break them down completely.”

And that's how it's likely to go, back and forth, with both players having their chances, Trubisky said, “until one of us really separates our self as the leader of the offense.”

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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