The old Marquise Williams returned to North Carolina’s huddle Saturday in Atlanta. And because he did, the Tar Heels could celebrate for the first time this year despite winning their fourth game of the season.
Williams compiled 329 total yards rushing, passing and receiving and scored three touchdowns to lead North Carolina ’s comeback 38-31 win over Georgia Tech Saturday in Atlanta.
Through the first four games, the besieged senior hadn’t been playing up to his All-ACC potential. But against Georgia Tech, the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder from Charlotte Mallard Creek ran 15 times for a career-high 148 yards with two touchdowns, completed 13 of 24 passes for 134 yards without an interception and caught a 37-yard TD pass from Quinshad Davis.
But just five days earlier, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora felt the need to publicly and emphatically reaffirm to his fan base that the struggling Williams was the Tar Heels’ starter.
The frustration over Williams’ play had been building since he threw interceptions in the season-opening 17-13 loss to a South Carolina team that has struggled since then to a 2-3 record.
North Carolina’s wins against three overmatched opponents – North Carolina A&T (53-14), Illinois (48-14) and Delaware (41-14) — didn’t build confidence in the offense for the upcoming ACC season that opened at Georgia Tech.
In the Delaware game, the Tar Heels started slowly under Williams before he was injured and knocked out of the contest. Sophomore Mitch Trubisky replaced him and sparked an eventual one-sided victory.
Fedora is one of those coaches that doesn’t discuss injuries, but in this case that added fuel to speculation that Trubisky might be taking over behind center. That prompted Fedora’s declaration of support for Williams.
Fedora said Williams was his starter and there was no debate. No, he said, he didn’t anticipate splitting some playing time with Trubisky. Yes, he understood Williams has made some bad decisions, but he was confident he would turn around his season.
Williams not only avoided mistakes at Georgia Tech, he brought his team back from a 21-0 deficit late in the second quarter and a 21-7 halftime deficit.
North Carolina still trailed 28-24 entering the fourth quarter, but Williams scored his 37-yard TD reception early in the final period and ran 27 yards for a score and 38-28 lead with 1:58 remaining.
The Tar Heels snapped an eight-game losing streak to Georgia Tech (2-3, 0-2 ACC Coastal), which suddenly has its own losing streak of three. The Yellow Jackets, ranked as high as No. 14 when they won their first two games against Alcorn State and Tulane.
With North Carolina’s fourth straight win, the Tar Heels (4-1, 1-0 ACC Coastal) might be a factor in the division race, after all.
Fedora’s team had been in danger of slipping to No. 3 among the Triangle football schools with their uninspiring start to 2015 following seasons of 6-7 in 2014, 7-6 in 2013.
Duke, which beat Boston College 9-7 on Saturday, is now 4-1 and 2-0 in the ACC Coastal and has gained votes in the AP Top 25 among “others.” North Carolina State was 4-0 and considered a dark-horse in the ACC Atlantic until losing at home Saturday to Louisville, 20-13.
Williams’ three touchdowns bumped his career total to 69 to rank second all-time at the school. He has 43 touchdowns passing and 26 rushing and trails Darian Durant’s record by 10.
Williams demonstrated he can still produce a big day at Georgia Tech. Now he has to prove he can be consistent over the next seven games to the regular season.