There is enough drama inherent in North Carolina’s push to win two of its final three games and make it to a bowl game. Lurking just below the surface, a different kind of intrigue is building looking forward to next year.
Freshman Mitch Trubisky is the heir apparent to Bryn Renner at the quarterback position, but Marquise Williams is really making it interesting. While Trubisky redshirts, Williams is building his case for next season.
It has become a pretty strong case. Even before Renner’s UNC career was cut short by a shoulder injury, Williams had been playing well in spot duty, not only adding a running dimension to the position but also throwing the ball better than he had previously demonstrated.
Williams’ passer rating is actually higher than Renner’s this season, although in a limited sample size, and he’s averaging 3.8 yards a carry once sacks are taken out of the equation. That has given Larry Fedora and his staff more than enough to think about going into Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh, and if the sophomore from Charlotte can lead North Carolina to a bowl game – despite a 1-5 start and the loss of a record-setting quarterback – that would only bolster his argument for next season.
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“All we’re asking of our quarterback is to take care of the football,” Fedora said. “And then also just manage the offense. And that means to distribute the ball where it’s supposed to go according to what the defense gives you. Not try to force things. I think he’s done a good job of moving the chains.”
Williams will have to make a strong case, because from the time Trubisky enrolled early last January, the job has been his to lose. ESPN’s seventh-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2013 and Ohio’s Mr. Football, he chose North Carolina over Alabama, Michigan State, Ohio State and Tennessee, among others.
The Mentor, Ohio, native was recruited specifically to run Fedora’s offense, and the North Carolina staff has been committed to redshirting him this season all along with an eye toward turning the keys over to him next season.
In training camp, there were signs Trubisky was the emergency option if something happened to Renner, with Williams coming off an academic suspension that kept him out of spring practice. But Williams played so well in spot duty even before Renner was lost that the Tar Heels quickly retired that notion, a rare pleasant surprise during a rocky start to the season.
“What we were doing with Marquise, he brought an added dimension that we didn’t have with Bryn to the offense,” Fedora said. “That would open up things in the running game with Marquise. We knew he could throw the football. We knew he was a complete quarterback. But we just utilized the things that Bryn didn’t have in the offense.”
The Tar Heels are committed to Williams for the moment. The official No. 2 on the depth chart is redshirt freshman Kanler Coker. If the Tar Heels were to lose Williams for any length of time, they might have no choice but to burn Trubisky’s redshirt, but that’s not an option right now.
The Bryn Renner Era at North Carolina has come to a premature end, and what comes next is now uncertain. Williams has stepped into the void so well that Trubisky’s succession is anything but assured, although the final three games will have as much to say about that as they will the Tar Heels’ bowl hopes.