CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s offense moved the ball. Its defense got stops. And the special teams did everything from making a long field goal to breaking off big returns.
Now coach Larry Fedora has a lopsided win to dangle in front of his team to show what can happen when the Tar Heels play well across every unit.
Marquise Williams threw three touchdown passes and also ran for 105 yards to help UNC beat Illinois 48-14 on Saturday.
Williams led a big offensive performance for the Tar Heels (2-1), who had plenty to feel good about in a rout of a Power-Five nonconference opponent. The overhauled defense continued its improved play by surrendering just one touchdown through the first three quarters, Ryan Switzer had two big punt returns after a frustrating drought and kicker Nick Weiler hit two more field goals to stay perfect on the season.
“It wasn’t just offense,” Williams said of the high-scoring unit. “All three: offense, defense and special teams. To win football games, we need that every game.”
The Tar Heels dominated the Fighting Illini (2-1) after halftime and rolled to their most lopsided win against a power-conference opponent in five years.
Josh Ferguson ran for 133 yards and a touchdown for the Illini (2-1), who had outscored their first two opponents 96-3 under interim coach Bill Cubit. But they came up empty on the opening drive after pushing all the way to the UNC 2 before a fourth-down incompletion, plunked the upright on a later field goal and didn’t manage their second touchdown until the final minute.
“When you play these type of teams, you’ve got to take advantage of every situations,” Cubit said. “We didn’t. It deflates the sideline at times.”
Much of the excitement for UNC focused on Switzer.
The junior tied an NCAA single-season record with five punt returns for touchdowns as a freshman, but didn’t manage any last year and had largely been bottled up since his last TD return in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati to close 2013.
On Saturday, he had a 71-yard return early in the second to set up a short field goal, then broke free for an 85-yard touchdown in the fourth. He finished with 168 punt-return yards to break a UNC single-game record that had stood since 1951, and he also made amends for dropping a sure long TD pass with a 34-yard scoring catch late in the third.
“Me and Coach Fedora talked about it on the sidelines: I feel like we got that camel off our back as a punt-return unit,” Switzer said. “I’m excited to see what the rest of the season has in store for us.”
Williams threw for 203 yards on 17-for-24 passing and shook off an early interception to get UNC’s offense moving. Elijah Hood also ran for 129 yards and a touchdown, giving the Tar Heels two 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since 2010.
Quinshad Davis and Austin Proehl also had touchdown catches, with Davis’ 9-yarder in the second quarter setting the school’s career TD receiving mark with 22.
As for Weiler, who couldn’t make a kick longer than 23 yards last season, he connected on an early 48-yarder and stands at 5-for-5 on the season.
UNC led 20-7 at halftime, then scored 28 straight points to blow the game open.
While Ferguson had a 52-yard run in his big day, Illinois’ offense sputtered. Wes Lunt had thrown five TD passes in the first two games and was coming off a 316-yard passing day against Western Illinois, but finished with 140 yards passing with an interception.