(AP) – Marquise Williams is completely at ease running No. 17 North Carolina’s offense. The reason isn’t just his experience as a fifth-year senior, either.
It’s the fact that he has so many improved downfield targets to choose from while making his reads.
”Makes it a whole lot easier, man,” Williams said. ”Just to do that and throw the ball to them guys. And it’s no pressure on me.”
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The Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0 ACC) can claim a share of the Coastal Division title and a trip to the league championship game with a win over Miami (6-3, 3-2) on Saturday, as well as a Pittsburgh loss at Duke.
The depth at receiver has been a key reason why the Williams-led offense is rolling entering the Heels’ home finale.
UNC has two receivers – juniors Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer – with at least 500 yards receiving, with fellow junior Bug Howard has 407 yards. Then there’s senior Quinshad Davis, who owns the program record for receptions (186) and touchdown catches (23).
It’s a group that gives the Tar Heels plenty of size on the perimeter to make a play in traffic, with Howard, Hollins and Davis all standing at least 6-foot-4. Switzer, meanwhile, gives the Tar Heels a smaller, shifty receiver who can play in the slot or make big plays downfield.
”I really believe we’ve got actually more than four,” coach Larry Fedora said Monday. ”We can throw Austin Proehl out there behind Switz and he can make plays for us. So we’ve got more guys. The talent’s been there, it’s just you can only get so many of them on the field.”
The group certainly showed it in last weekend’s 66-31 rout of Duke, which ranked in the top 10 nationally of passing, total and scoring defense.
Williams found Switzer wide open off a flea-flicker for an 89-yard touchdown on UNC’s first offensive snap. Williams found Hollins for a 74-yard touchdown with 1:30 left in the first half, then connected with Howard on a 49-yard touchdown heave with 1 second left before the break.
Williams threw one more touchdown, finding Davis for a 12-yard score midway through the third quarter before calling it a day with a program-record 494 yards passing.
The group has combined for six 100-yard performances this season, according to STATS. Hollins, with five catches for 165 yards against Duke, has a team-best three 100-yard games with seven touchdowns and ranks second nationally by averaging 26.3 yards per catch (21 catches for a team-high 553 yards).
Switzer had his second 100-yard game against the Blue Devils, while Howard finished just shy of his second this season with 83 yards.
”Just having that many receivers, as a college quarterback, that’s what you want,” Williams said. ”Anybody that can make plays and I knew that if I just throw the ball at any one of them, they’re going to make plays for me.”
Miami will need to contain that powerful passing attack if it wants to remain in the race for the Coastal title. It will be looking for a third straight victory after defeating Virginia 27-21 last week, giving interim coach Larry Scott two wins in as many games since taking over following Al Golden’s dismissal.
”I want them to enjoy this hard-fought victory,” Scott said. ”But we started talking about some of the things we need to start taking care of early to get ready for this test we’ve got (Saturday).”
Brad Kaaya returned from a one-game absence due to a concussion and passed for 286 yards and two touchdowns, while Stacy Coley had 132 receiving yards with a score for the Hurricanes.
”Felt great getting back out there,” said Kaaya, who was 20 of 26.
North Carolina has been on the short end of this series in recent years, dropping two straight and four of five meetings since the start of the 2010 season. The Tar Heels were routed 47-20 at Miami last season, with Kaaya throwing for three touchdowns while Miami outrushed North Carolina 295-11. Joseph Yearby ran for 104 yards and a TD.
Williams was 22 for 32 but threw for only 186 yards, with no scores and one interception.