Tar Heels' Williams offers different look

Tar Heels' Williams offers different look

CHAMPAIGN — Peruse enough game notes and details will blend together.

No muddling, however, comes when analyzing North Carolina, the Illini’s opponent this Saturday.

Particularly this one key fact: 99.5 percent of the Tar Heels’ offense from last year is back.

And it’s led by dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams.

“It’s the same thing with those guys when you have a running quarterback,” Illinois interim coach Bill Cubit said. “You’ve got to account for them in your run game, so you’ve got one more guy involved in the run game and one less for you.”

The fifth-year senior isn’t just a runner, though. He holds the two best single-game passing numbers in program history, slicing up Old Dominion for 469 yards in 2013 and picking apart Georgia Tech for 463 yards in 2014.

Challenges abound for the Illinois defensive line when tasked with limiting Williams, whether he hands off to North Carolina running backs Elijah Hood or T.J. Logan or keeps the ball for himself on any read-option plays out of the shotgun.

“We’ve got to make sure he doesn’t get outside the pocket,” Illinois defensive end Jihad Ward said. “We’ve got to keep an eye on him. For me, my responsibility is I have to check him first and then worry about the dive on the zone read. If I do that well, then we should have no worries on the edge.”

Neither should the Illini linebackers, if Williams breaks through the line of scrimmage with room to spare.

“He’s versatile,” Illinois middle linebacker T.J. Neal said. “He can take the ball and run it 15-20 yards down the field and get the first down.

“It’s hard when you’ve got a guy that can just run and that’s probably just as fast as you are at linebacker. You’re not used to seeing that. A guy that is mobile brings a whole different element to the game.”

And, last not but not least, the UI secondary. It’ll need to track down Williams if he escapes the defensive line and linebackers, but be wary of the big pass play.

“Staying in coverage is the biggest thing,” Illinois free safety Clayton Fejedelem said. “You never know when a guy that’s scrambling will pull up late. It’s really important to stay in coverage until he’s crossed the line of scrimmage.

“There’s a lot of highlight clips of quarterbacks who are scramblers running up to the line of scrimmage and defensive backs coming off where the quarterback just makes an easy throw past them. It’s really important to do just your job this week.”

Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt has respect for what Williams has accomplished. Even if the Illini signal-caller wouldn’t beat Williams in a foot race.

The 1,572 career rushing yards Williams has compiled is only 1,658 yards more than Lunt has racked up. Yes, Lunt has negative 86 rushing yards in his college career, all a result of sacks he has taken.

“Obviously that’d be nice (to have Williams’ speed), but I’m blessed with what I’m blessed with,” Lunt said. “He’s a very veteran guy and makes a lot of plays. Some of the defensive guys have asked me about him, and I just say that he’s definitely the best quarterback we’ve faced so far.”

Lunt was clearly the best quarterback on the field during the Illini’s first two games. He’ll likely need to play at an even higher level in Chapel Hill if Illinois is able to stay unbeaten.

“It’s a joy to watch him. It really is,” Cubit said. “When the game becomes really slow, you can have a whole lot more fun. When the game is going fast, which happened to him early last season, it’s difficult to go out there and operate this thing.

“Now, he’s going out and doing everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s got to be the big difference for us.”