CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- It didn't take long for North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams to find a comfort zone in his new role.
"I feel like he was more aggressive," Tar Heels receiver Quinshad Davis said. "He played like a man with his hair on fire."
Williams threw two touchdowns passes, caught a touchdown pass and ran for a another score as North Carolina trounced the Virginia Cavaliers 45-14 in a homecoming game Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium.
Williams, who was making his first start since a season-ending injury to senior quarterback Bryn Renner, directed the Tar Heels to their third consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference victory.
Williams wore jersey No. 2 (instead of his normal No. 12) in honor of Renner, who made 32 career starts for the Tar Heels and ranks among the school's all-time leaders in several categories.
"I felt like I should do that to honor him," Williams said. "When I first came here, I was a puppy and he took care of me."
Williams paid a nice tribute to Renner, who underwent shoulder surgery Wednesday, by completing 15 of 28 passes for 185 yards. He also rushed for 46 yards.
A strong start to the game gave the Tar Heels a boost with Williams at the controls.
"Marquise, they feel good about him," North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said of the team. "They understand he's going to take care of business."
The outcome sent reeling Virginia (2-8, 0-6 ACC) to its seventh loss in a row.
"It just looked like they kept executing their offense and we were a man short or a guy not in his gap or not executing the defense that was called," Virginia coach Mike London said. "Early on, they executed well and we couldn't stop them."
North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) put itself back into the bowl picture with games remaining at Pittsburgh and at home against Old Dominion and Duke.
The Tar Heels went ahead, 14-0, on the last play for the first quarter, with Williams catching a 29-yard touchdown pass from Davis. It was the first touchdown reception for a North Carolina quarterback since 1984.
That play was more nerve-racking than any of the times when Williams threw the ball, he said.
"I'm wide open by myself," Williams said. "I think there was more pressure catching it than throwing it. ... It felt great when I saw (the play) come from the sideline. I thought, 'Oh man, I'm going to get a receiving touchdown.'"
Davis opened the scoring by catching an 8-yard touchdown pass from Williams. North Carolina's last touchdown came on Williams' 15-yard screen pass to running back Khris Francis on third-and-goal in the fourth quarter.
Williams, a sophomore, ran for a 3-yard touchdown on the first possession of the second half.
It was 21-0 by halftime after Ryan Switzer returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown. The freshman receiver muffed his original attempt to catch the kick, scooped the ball and broke up the middle of the field before breaking along the left sideline.
"Fortunately, it bounced back up and I was able to hit a crease," Switzer said. "I'm going to be in trouble for that (drop)."
Running back Kevin Parks put Virginia on the board with an 8-yard scoring run with 4:53 left in the third quarter. He finished with 100 rushing yards on 24 carries, reaching the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this year.
Virginia safety Anthony Harris intercepted Williams' pass in the third quarter, giving Harris a pickoff in four games in a row. His seven interceptions put him among the nation's leaders.
Two plays later, North Carolina safety Dominique Green picked off a pass by Virginia quarterback David Watford and raced 62 yards for a touchdown.
It was the Tar Heels' first interception for a score since last year against Virginia.
Virginia reached North Carolina territory twice in the first half, punting out of a field-goal formation the first time and coming up short on fourth-and-two from the Tar Heels' 31 the next time.
"It's obviously disappointing not being able to early on make something happen offensively," London said. "They got up on us quick with some scores."
North Carolina missed a chance to extend its lead when Thomas Moore was off target on a 38-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the first half.
Virginia backup quarterback Greyson Lambert threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keeon Johnson with 11:38 left. North Carolina hadn't allowed a passing touchdown in its previous three games.
NOTES: WR Ryan Switzer's punt return of 85 yards tied for the fourth longest in school history for the Tar Heels. It was the first punt return for a touchdown yielded by Virginia since 2009 against Miami. ... RB Kevin Parks, a junior playing in his home state for the first time, notched his 24th career touchdown, putting him in a tie for eighth place on Virginia's all-time list. ... This game is dubbed the "Oldest Rivalry in the South," as the matchup has been played 118 times. Only three other series nationally have been played more often. North Carolina leads 60-54-4 in the series. ... North Carolina has won four consecutive games against Virginia, marking its longest stretch of success against the Cavaliers since the 1980s. ... North Carolina scored at least 27 points against the Cavaliers for the fourth consecutive time. ... Virginia is off next week before a Nov. 23 game at Miami. ... North Carolina goes to Pittsburgh next week for its last road game of the season.