Fleet-footed QB could present problems for Pitt

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 8:21 p.m.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora prepared for the worst and then it happened.

The result is that the Tar Heels are coming into Heinz Field on Saturday without highly regarded quarterback Bryn Renner, who is out for the season with a left shoulder injury, but with the added dimension of speed provided by backup Marquise Williams.

Which could hurt Pitt.

Over the past two years, Pitt has struggled to contain quarterbacks who can escape the pocket or call their own number on a designed run. Three of them — Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux, Duke's Brandon Connette and Navy's Keenan Reynolds — ran for 93 or more yards against Pitt. The Panthers lost two of those games and needed to score 58 points to beat Duke.

“Just in general, it gives every defense a little bit of trouble,” defensive coordinator Matt House said. “It presents an issue, especially when you pair it up with good skill people.”

House said generally when the quarterback can run, “It's hang onto your (hat). Every week you face a mobile quarterback.”

North Carolina runs a version of the spread offense, with zone-read concepts built into it that give the quarterback license to run. Fedora said Wednesday he has added more quarterback runs to the game plan.

Williams, a sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., is no novice to the offense. After turning down Notre Dame, Stanford, Virginia Tech and many others to commit to North Carolina, the four-star recruit played as a freshman — he was the Tar Heels' fourth-leading rusher last year — but he assumed a more significant role now. He has played in eight of UNC's nine games as a change-of-pace quarterback.

“We knew that if something happened in the future, we needed to get him some reps because he hadn't had meaningful reps all of last year,” Fedora said. “He brought an added dimension that we didn't have with Bryn running the offense.”

Williams seized control in last week's 45-14 victory over Virginia, throwing two touchdown passes and scoring on a short run and a 29-yard reception for a total of 260 all-purpose yards.

Note: Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a national semifinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy. He is also a semifinalist for the Lombardi and Bednarik awards.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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