Tar Heeled: UNC’s Williams runs wild on No. 23 Panthers in 26-19 loss

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Tar Heeled: UNC’s Williams runs wild on No. 23 Panthers in 26-19 loss

Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

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On a breezy Thursday night, North Carolina senior quarterback Marquise Williams routinely blew by Pitt defenders.

Williams threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns, completing 14 of 23 passes and running for 52 yards on nine carries. He served as the lynchpin for the Tar Heels’ 26-19 win over the No. 23 Pitt Panthers at Heinz Field.

While Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi lauded the signal-caller, he also lamented his defensive unit’s inability to bring him down.

“He’s a good football player, but you know what? When you don’t make plays, you make everybody look good,” Narduzzi said. “I give him credit, but we probably missed four sacks out there.”

The defense did indeed struggle to bring the six-foot-two, 225-pound Williams down, as the Panthers had him in their grasp or at their fingertips numerous times only to have him escape.

The Panthers, who at one point in the season led the nation in sacks per game, could not bring Williams down once.

“After we miss a sack, he’s completing passes,” Narduzzi said. “We can’t hang our secondary out there.”

While Williams avoided negative plays throughout the game, his elusiveness led to big plays twice late in the fourth quarter. With Pitt down 10 with just over seven minutes left at the start of the drive, he avoided sacks from Pitt sophomore Rori Blair and senior Ejuan Price, completing first down converting passes on both.

While the Tar Heels would only kick a field goal on that drive, those conversions were key in milking the clock, as North Carolina ran enough time off the clock to give Pitt less than three minutes to score 13 points, a feat it could not accomplish.

Junior linebacker Matt Galambos, like his coach, was both complementary of Williams while critical of Pitt’s defense.

“He’s a great quarterback. He’s good,” Galambos said. “We’ve just got to tackle better and get him to the ground.”

Freshman safety Jordan Whitehead said Williams’ size didn’t help.

“He’s big, so it wasn’t going to take just one guy to bring him down,” Whitehead said. “When he did get loose, you could see he made those big plays. He stepped up for his team tonight and made good plays when he had the chance.”

The Pitt defense, which once looked so promising in the pass rush department, struggled to finish when applying pressure.

“We haven’t got to the quarterback the last three weeks,” Narduzzi said.

Galambos was less definitive about the struggles.

“I’m not sure about that,” Galambos said regarding issues with the pass rush. “We’ve just got to get to the quarterback.”

The Tar Heels’ 270 yards through the air was their third highest total of the season. And while the North Carolina offense is dynamic — it averaged 38.5 points per game prior to Thursday’s contest — Narduzzi again related the struggles back to the pass rush.

“Sometimes the pressure was good and we missed tackles. Sometimes [the pressure] was awful,” Narduzzi said. “You can’t cover their receivers forever.”

The Panthers will have eight days to rebound from the loss. They return to action Saturday, Nov. 7, when they take on the No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Heinz Field. Kickoff is set for noon.

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