The Complicated Legacy of Marquise Williams


Keeping It Heel reflects back on the career of North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams, who played his last game as a Tar Heel on Tuesday.

North Carolina’s loss in the Russell Athletic Bowl was Marquise Williams’ last game as a Tar Heel. His career as a quarterback at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is now sadly over.

And what a career it was.

Williams leaves having thrown for 7,961 yards through the air, having rushed for 2,458 yards on the ground and even having caught five passes for 106 yards.

In his career, Williams threw for 61 touchdowns, rushed for 35 touchdowns and caught three touchdowns.

On the ACC Career Leaderboard for Total Yards, Williams ranks 4th with 10,419 yards.

On the ACC Career Leaderboard for Total Touchdowns, Williams ranks 3rd with 96.

Williams played in 46 games as a Tar Heel over four season, and the Heels’ record in those games was 31 wins and 15 losses.

By any measure, that is an amazing career. Williams’ statistics put him in the conversation as one of the best quarterbacks of all time at UNC, if not even as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The qualitative evidence on Williams, however, isn’t as clear as the numbers are. Williams had flaws on the football field that surfaced in his sophomore season, that were exposed at times in his junior season and that he could not fully conquer even in his senior season, even in his last bowl game.

103 weeks ago, here is what I wrote about Marquise Williams in a study of his performance in the 2013 Belk Bowl.

"Williams shows with that throw that he can survive, but not necessarily thrive, as a passer in UNC’s system. The reason why I say survive and not thrive is that Williams’s passing game still has a lot of holes in it. Marquise struggles throwing the ball deep down the field and executing short screen routes and dump downs to running backs. Those two areas of his passing game must be improved this offseason if Williams wants to continue to improve in Coach Fedora’s offense."

That was written 103 weeks ago, and it’s still accurate. In the Russell Athletic Bowl Tuesday, Marquise Williams missed on deep shots to Mack Hollins, and has had plenty of struggles with accuracy on short to intermediate throws too.

17 weeks ago, though, I outlined all the positive qualities of Williams the QB.

"Williams is fast enough to outrun DBs on long touchdown runs but strong enough to power past smaller defenders at the goal line. He commands attention on read-option plays and takes care of the ball.Williams is also a true dual-threat quarterback. His arm equals or even surpasses the abilities of his legs. He has a good understanding of Carolina’s offense, can complete short touch throws with very good accuracy and still air it out and toss long TD bombs to Mack Hollins or Ryan Switzer.In short, Marquise Williams is a very good quarterback."

That was written before the season started in a piece titled “Why Not Marquise Williams for Heisman?” Williams’ Heisman campaign never had a chance because he played so poorly in his first few games, especially in his season opener against South Carolina (61.3% completion rate, 3 INTs). But I still believe that yes, Marquise Williams had the talent to compete for a Heisman trophy.

There’s a gap between Williams talent, his flashes of that talent, and how he plays sometimes. That’s something I tried to address in a piece titled “On “Good” and “Bad” Marquise Williams”. In it, I discussed how the best version of Carolina’s offense is led by Marquise Williams, and the worst version of the offense also is led by Williams. The best version has a dual-threat quarterback who can make all the throws and also beat teams on the ground with his legs. The worst version of the offense is a quarterback who can’t stay calm in the pocket and who isn’t accurate with his passes, thus not allowing the offense to move the chains and thrive.

Williams is both of those quarterbacks. That can be frustrating for fans to watch, which is something I addressed with this paragraph…

"Fans should just come to accept number 12 for who he is. He will never be the consistent, methodical passer or game manager that doesn’t throw any picks or make any outlandish mistakes. But he also adds value because he can throw for a 60 yard TD one series and run for a 60 yard TD the next."

If I had to pick one play, just one, to define the legacy of Marquise Williams, it would be this one against Pittsburgh from this season.

That’s all the good of Marquise Williams wrapped up in one play. He shakes off a defender grabbing at his facemask, keeps his eyes downfield and delivers a strike to Ryan Switzer for a 71 yard touchdown pass. That’s incredible.

All this we’ve discussed combines together to form the complicated legacy of Marquise Williams. He was explosive, talented, sometimes frustrating to watch but always fun to watch because you never knew what he was going to do next.

Marquise, thanks for four years and 41 games of great football, and best of luck at the next level.