Fedora looking for breakaway back to emerge
For most of the country, the signature play of the 2012 college football season – the one that’s been replayed countless times in the past year – was South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney de-helmeting a Michigan running back.
But North Carolina supporters have a different favorite play – Giovani Bernard’s 74-yard punt return with 13 seconds left against N.C. State, which broke a 35-35 tie and led to UNC’s first win over the Wolfpack in six years.
That return would have been memorable in any context. That it came against UNC’s rival cemented its place in future highlight reels.
The Tar Heels look to make more memories Saturday against the Wolfpack (12:30 p.m., WRAL) in Raleigh, where they were shut out 13-0 in 2011 in their last appearance at Carter-Finley Stadium.
But Bernard’s return is also a reminder of what UNC (2-5, 1-3 ACC) lacks this season in his absence – a game-breaking presence in the backfield and on special teams.
UNC’s kick return units haven’t been able to score yet, while the run offense ranks 114th in the FBS in yards per game and 118th in yards per rush. Partly as a result, UNC has gone from eighth in scoring offense last year to 86th this year, dropping from 40.6 to 25.0 points per game.
“(Bernard) was a big-play guy,” Fedora said. “Any time he touched the ball he could take it the distance. And we just haven’t had anybody show that this year. We haven’t had anybody get that spark or get that going.”
Despite having seven games to sort through the running back rotation, UNC’s depth chart against N.C. State (3-4, 0-4) still lists four possible starters – senior A.J. Blue, sophomore Romar Morris and true freshmen T.J. Logan and Khris Francis. All four received between 5-9 carries and appeared in the first four series of last week’s 34-10 win over Boston College, and Fedora said that running backs coach Randy Jordan will pick the starter Thursday or Friday, as he has done the last few weeks.
“I would have liked to have had one emerge and take over. But we haven’t had that,” Fedora said. “Each guy brings something different to the table and we’re looking for one guy to catch fire eventually.”
Still, Fedora said that the offense’s success last year wasn’t solely because of Bernard – the team also had three lineman who would soon be drafted into the NFL, and the offense as a whole was doing a better job of blocking downfield and getting to the perimeter.
Even on Bernard’s punt return against N.C. State, blocks by A.J. Blue, Tre Boston and Romar Morris ensured Bernard wouldn’t be touched en route to the end zone.
“All Gio had to do was run and he did,” Fedora said. “He ran pretty fast.”
Fedora is hopeful that the results from the last two weeks – a last-minute loss to No. 7 Miami followed by the team’s first league win against BC – show that UNC is making progress.
“We haven’t arrived, but we’re getting better,” Fedora said. “We’re getting better in a lot of positions and we’re getting better in a lot of situations. With as many young people as we’re playing, they’re getting better and they’re getting more experience and they’re feeling more comfortable with what we’re doing.”
UNC’s Nov. 9 home game against Virginia will kick off at 12:30 p.m. and will be televised locally on WRAL, the ACC announced Monday.
That will mark the Tar Heels’ fifth appearance this season on the ACC Network’s 12:30 p.m. time slot, and ensures that six of UNC’s first seven Saturday games will start at either noon or 12:30 p.m.
The UNC-N.C. State game Saturday is being played at either noon or 12:30 p.m. for the ninth straight season.
Senior defensive end Kareem Martin was named the ACC’s defensive lineman of the week for his performance in UNC’s 34-10 win over Boston College.
The Roanoke Rapids native recorded five tackles, including sacks on consecutive third-down plays that forced the Eagles into punts. In the previous game against Miami, Martin posted four tackles for loss, including a sack.
“He was still solid for us in all the other games, but in the last two, he’s just making play after play, playing extremely hard, doing a good job of leading,” Fedora said. “I think part of that is that senior understanding that (his college career) is coming to an end and it will be here quick.”
The Tar Heels allowed a season-low 261 total yards against the Eagles, and BC’s 59 passing yards were the lowest for a UNC opponent since 1997.