Renner dressed out and went through team warmups at Lane Stadium, but his mobility has clearly limited.
The fifth-year senior appeared to roll his left foot midway through the fourth quarter of UNC’s loss to East Carolina last weekend. He showed up to UNC’s weekly press conference on Monday wearing a walking boot, but told reporters that he planned to play on Saturday.
Head coach Larry Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson both gave indications throughout the week that Renner would be ready for Saturday’s Coastal Division matchup.
That belief changed prior to kickoff, according to Fedora.
“We came out of pregame and the trainers said that [Renner] couldn’t go,” the second-year UNC head coach told reporters following UNC’s 27-17 loss. “There really wasn’t any more discussion about it than that. They just didn’t feel like he could go. It wasn’t throwing the ball; He was throwing the ball fine, but he just couldn’t push off the foot enough to be mobile enough to protect himself.”
Fedora told reporters that Williams found out that he would start right before the game, although the red-shirt sophomore quarterback said he learned that he would get his first career start during team walkthroughs on Friday.
Regardless of the drama surrounding Renner’s status, Williams stepped into a hostile environment and showcased how Fedora’s spread offense can operate with a dual-threat quarterback. The Charlotte, N.C. product completed 23-of-35 passes for 277 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also led the team with 56 rushing yards on 18 carries, good for a 3.1 yards-per-carry average.
“He did a really nice job,” Fedora said. “There’s only one throw he made that we probably all would like to have back, the one that floated own the middle. Other than that, I thought the kid threw the ball around really well today and I thought he managed the game well.”
Williams’s second interception came on a 4th-and-1 play in Virginia Tech territory in the fourth quarter. He described it as a play-action pass with one read to Jack Tabb before attempting to stretch the edge for the first down. The pass was a little underthrown and Kyle Fuller picked it off at the Hokies’ 13-yard line.
Williams took extra snaps with the first team throughout the week in practice, according to Fedora. His running ability allowed offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to switch up his play calling.
“We don’t really run Bryn with the football [with] called runs,” Fedora said. “We installed a few of them for Marquise in case he played a lot…
“We had some checks and things like that to try to make things a little bit simpler and put him into some good plays. We tried to simplify things a bit in some situations.”
Anderson called a variety of running plays for Williams, including quarterback keepers, zone reads and option plays. The result was a solid rushing performance against one of the country’s top defenses as UNC totaled 376 total yards of offense, including 99 on the ground.
“Our zone read is a little more in play with ‘Quise,” left tackle James Hurst said. “He can pull the ball and be a threat. Play-action might be a little better for us with him because he’s a running threat. And you can get another blocker to the next level because the quarterback is running the ball, so there’s a lot of things that helps us with him back there.”
After a conservative initial scripting of plays, Anderson loosened up his reins and allowed Williams to throw the ball down the field. He connected with nine different receivers, including six completions each to Quinshad Davis (94 yards, TD) and Eric Ebron (70 yards, TD).
“I guess there were a lot of questions about if Marquise Williams could throw the football,” Williams said. “And I think I proved that to myself today that I can really throw the football.”
The unintended result of Williams’s solid performance on Saturday is that it will undoubtedly fuel talk of a quarterback controversy leading into UNC’s final bye week ahead of its Thursday night matchup with No. 14 Miami.