The game today might have not crushed any scoring record, like the one that head coach Larry Fedora’s squad played against Idaho, but it did do something else for the UNC football program. With the win over Virginia Tech (3 & 3, 1-1 in the ACC) by the final of 48 to 34 North Carolina (4 & 2, 1-1 in the ACC) claimed their first home win over the Hokies since 1938, and the first one ever in Kenan Stadium. And while people, including myself, prefaced their recap of the Idaho game by saying that UNC played an inferior team, the points that the Tar Heels put up today versus a team that returned nine defensive starters from a season ago had only been done once since Va Tech entered the Atlantic Coast Conference.
While North Carolina was told that they can not win its division, the reality is that coach Fedora and his squad could find themselves at the top of it anyway, and in someway that is going to be enough of an achievement for a team that just a few weeks ago had some of the fan base had given up on the season. Heck, truth be told, some of the fans were giving up on the Heels after the first three drives, when it seemed that all that Carolina could do is get penalties, throw incompletions, run backwards and much else. And if not for a kick off return that wide out Sean Tapley ran back for a score, the Tar Heels looked like the squad that played in Louisville a while back. From the tweets I read and going to some of the Heels web boards it seems that most of the fans jumped back on the bandwagon by the time this game was over!
In my preview I said that the Tar Heels needed to “air it out“, and while Bryn Renner, now 3rd all time in TD passes while 4th in both passing yds and completions, (17 for 30 for 194 yds and a TD) did his part, in this one it was all about the running game versus the Hokies. Which means it was all about Giovani Bernard, who rushed 23 times for 262 yds, scoring a touchdown, making this performance the second best in the FBS this season and the fifth highest ever for a Carolina player. Not a bad day’s job after starting off the game with his first three carries going for a total of minus three yards. In that massive load by the running back there are two runs for over fifty yards, including one for sixty-two that occurred on a 4th down and 1 that went for six points. If anyone had any thoughts on whether or not the tail back had fully recovered this performance should take any doubts away.
“It’s definitely a statement game,” Bernard said. “People are going to say they’re having an off year or whatnot, but for us it doesn’t matter. We just wanted to show everybody what we could do.”
And what Bernard could do, and did, was wear down the Virginia Tech defense, which returned nine starters from a season ago, with each of his hard nosed runs. Even watching it from home you could ust see that the players on the field were getting worn out by what the tail back donning the all white uniform was doing to them. The Hokies just did not have either the man power or the schemes, or maybe both, to stop the red shirt sophomore from having a career day in Kenan. The only mistake that Bernard had was a fumble on a punt return that allowed Virginia Tech to get a field goal with less than two minutes in the first half.
I said this about the fumble once the two teams went to intermission…
— A_E_M (@A_E_M) October 6, 2012
And while most will place the name of the running back when it comes to the win against Virginia Tech, another player should also be mentioned, Sean Tapley. Who first ran back a kick off early in the first quarter, right after the Heels had given up a very easy score to the Hokies, and then had a pair of catches, including another touchdown, against a Virginia Tech secondary that played rather well. In all the young receiver has four scores this season, not bad for someone who last year had one pass thrown to him, and he dropped it!
“When I broke free, it was almost like I didn’t believe it for a second, because they’re kickoff coverage team is really good,” Tapley said.
In thie game Renner found six players to complete passes to, five of them had multiple catches, including freshman Quinshad Davis, who had the most catches (six) and the most yards (65), but was kept out of the end zone by Virginia Tech. The one name that you do not see under this statistic is senior Jheranie Boyd, who many thought would be the “go to guy” when the season was about to begin along side Erik Highsith, who had four catches. So far Boyd has had a total of two catches (one for a TD) for 42 yards in the first half of the season. Nine other Tar Heels are above him in both receptions and yards.
All in all this squad seems to be doing well both on offense, where between Renner and the three headed monster in the back field, someone is always able to get something going. If you are a believer of the saying “numbers never lie“, there are plenty of supporting factors about how well Carolina is doing of late. This is the second game in a row that Renner & Co. gained more than 500 yards (575 vs Idaho ~ 533 vs VaTech), it’s the first time in almost two decades that the UNC offense scores 45 points in back to back games. And I could go on, but those two stats should be enough to show what the new regime and the new offense have been able to accomplish in Chapel Hill in a short time.
The team is also doing well when it comes to special teams, which in six games played have produced two touchdowns and three block kicks. All given the defense is not looking bad, but the secondary is still giving up the big plays that can one day turn a win into a loss for the Tar Heels. While winning does hide the kinks in the armor, it’s hard to over look that the VT’s quarterback Logan Thomas went 26 for 49, hitting eight team mates for a total of 354 yards and two touchdowns. What those numbers do not show is the fact that Logan could have had up to four more catches, several that would have hurt UNC but the passes were just either dropped or out of reach. Those numbers have to be trimmed down as the Tar Heels move forward with their season, since the defense can not expect that offense be as explosive every game as they have been in the past few.
While I am not a big believer in “what if’s”, you have to admit that if this team had played like this in their two road losses, first to Wake Forest and then to Top 25 Louisville, there pretty little doubt that they would be undefeated going into the second half of the season. Would that mean they were that much better? Of course not, but it would surely make for more talk about the program and maybe make it so that Kenan would be packed, which it was not yesterday. But the one thing that needs to improve quickly is the penalties, which Carolina had 15 overall yesterday for 126 yards, which is a number that any offensive player with the exception of a QB would love to have on a weekly basis.
In the end, while I am excited to see progress with this squad, this is still a work in progress, which means you can not rely on what the team did last week to gauge how it will do this week. Just like this week, next Saturday will play a team that has its same record of 4 and 2 while having one more win in the conference than the Heels, with the only difference being that this game is on the road for coach Fedora’s team. The program I am talking about is Miami (Fl), who were literally destroyed by Notre Dame yesterday by the final of 41 to 3. While it’s nice to know that UNC seems to be getting better and better, no one, not the coaches nor the players, can stop moving forward, since becoming stagnant is asking for trouble, and trouble in sports is usually accompanied by a loss.
As usual more information about North Carolina football and/or basketball, teams and players, present and past, make sure to check back often on isportsweb!