UNC run game comes under close scrutiny by coaches
After losing three offensive linemen and all-ACC running back Giovani Bernard to the NFL, it was expected North Carolina’s running game would take time to develop.
That didn’t make it any easier for UNC coach Larry Fedora during Saturday’s win over Middle Tennessee.
“The entire game I’m trying to figure out why we’re not running the ball effectively,” Fedora said. “I don’t think it’s one guy not doing his job — that would be easy to see. I think it’s a multitude of things.”
Romar Morris’s 26-yard touchdown run on UNC’s first possession was the only run for 10 yards or more on the day for the Tar Heels. It wasn’t for lack of trying — Morris, senior A.J. Blue and freshman Khris Francis each got 10 carries as the team attempted more runs (39) than passes (38, including sacks).
“I know it had to be hard on (offensive coordinator Blake Anderson) with the play calls because you just never felt like you got into any type of rhythm on offense, and a lot of that is because we didn’t run the ball effectively,” Fedora said.
That didn’t come back to haunt UNC during the 20-point win against the Blue Raiders. But next up is Georgia Tech (Sept. 21, noon), a team that scored 68 points last year in Kenan Stadium. The best way to keep the Yellow Jackets’ offense from scoring is to keep it off the field with sustained possessions.
“You can’t waste opportunities when you play teams like that,” Anderson said. “You know going in every series is critical. You have to move the chains.”
With left guard Jonathan Cooper (seventh overall pick), right tackle Brennan Williams (third round) and right guard Travis Bond (seventh round) off to the NFL and replaced by two freshmen and a sophomore, UNC knew there would be growing pains on the offensive line, a position group where experience and chemistry is more important than with any other unit.
“A lot of times you’re going to have to make an adjustment without being able to communicate, and if you have multiple reps with each other, you know that adjustment will be made on the snap,” Fedora said. “Those aren’t happening right now. But I’m not going to put it all on the offensive line, either.”
Anderson said that there were times when defensive lineman weren’t blocked properly. But there were also times when the holes were there and the running backs missed their reads.
While the UNC coaches have said they’re willing to utilize a running back-by-committee approach, they’re also hoping one will eventually claim the starting role.
Blue was nursing a hamstring injury during training camp, and the staff didn’t want to play Francis in the opener at South Carolina before he was ready. But the bye week could be a chance for one of the backs to step up.
Blue said he’s using the break to work on turning 10-yard runs into 20-yard runs.
“I take pride in running real hard, but one thing I kind of lacked these past two games is breaking tackles,” said Blue, whose longest rush this season is 14 yards.
But Blue stressed that there’s still plenty of time left in the season. While there hasn’t been much to brag about through two games, there also hasn’t been much to get down about.
“We have a lot of things to work on and we’re far from perfect,” Blue said. “But we’re not that bad, either.”
FEDORA ON OSU
Fedora, who served as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State from 2005-07, said he was shocked to hear about the allegations of corruptions at his former school, but that he didn’t know if the stories were accurate or not.
Sports Illustrated is in the midst of running a five-part series that documents illicit payments, academic dishonesty, rampant drug use and more at OSU between 2000-11.
“It was shocking to me. But I also understand it’s accusations and allegations,” Fedora said. “So whether or not there’s any truth to them or not, I don’t know.
“But I do believe (Oklahoma State) will be aggressive and I think they’ll be transparent in their investigations. And if there is any wrongdoing I have complete faith that they’ll get it straightened out and they’ll accept whatever’s coming to ‘em and they’ll move on down the road.”
Fedora said he hasn’t read the articles yet, but he has spoken with UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham because of Fedora’s ties to Oklahoma State.
“It was just a natural conversation on what my thoughts were about the situation,” Fedora said.
Fedora also spoke with UNC wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer, who was an Oklahoma State assistant from 2005-10.
“Both of us were kind of in shock that all this came out,” Fedora said.
A team spokesman said Brewer will not comment until after the full series is published.