Go Figure: Catch Him While You Can
It’s no secret that all season long, Giovani Bernard has been amazing, extraordinary, superb: insert any adjective you’d like. (Some informal adjectives, per my thesaurus, include “ace”, “A1” and “killer”. All seem applicable for Gio, but it also makes me wonder if my thesaurus is from the 1960’s.)
If anyone needs extra incentive to come out to Kenan Stadium for Carolina’s remaining two home games against Georgia Tech (on November 10) and Maryland (November 24), he should be enough. Against ACC foes at home, Bernard has 62 touches for 595 yards (9.6 per touch) and four touchdowns.
Bernard has 18 of Carolina’s 42 second-half points in the last two games and over the last three, he has 42 of Carolina’s 91 points (and seven of its ten touchdowns). But in the clutch is where Bernard has been at his best, particularly lately. (Interesting side note: neither “clutch” nor “Tebow” show up in my thesaurus. Weird.)
He has scored Carolina’s last touchdown in three straight games now (all close wins or losses) and he has three of Carolina’s six fourth-quarter touchdowns in the last two games; two of those were go-ahead scores.
It’s more than his touchdowns, though. Of Carolina’s 23 fourth-quarter first downs the last three games (20 not counting penalties), Bernard has eight. Carolina has 39 fourth-quarter points and Bernard has 18. His teammates have out-gained him in the fourth quarter, but barely: 229 yards (47 rushing, 182 passing) to 214 yards (184 rushing, 30 receiving). The Tar Heels have converted just 4-of-13 third downs in the fourth quarter in the last three games. Bernard is 2-of-2; his teammates combined 2-of-9.
In Carolina’s two close wins (by five or fewer points) at Miami and at home against NC State, Bernard has played in both and ran for 155 yards on 13 fourth-quarter attempts and gained seven of Carolina’s 14 fourth-quarter first downs. The lone exception? The Duke game, where Bernard actually had just eight touches in the fourth quarter out of 25 plays and just one first down. (He did have two of Carolina’s three fourth-quarter touchdowns.)
Bernard has been great in the second half in general, too. He has 15 of Carolina’s 34 second-half first downs in the last three games and is 4-of-6 on 3rd down (the rest of the team combined is 1-of-12). He has averaged 7.3 yards per carry in the second half (37 attempts for 269 yards) and is averaging 89.7 rushing yards and 139 all-purpose yards PER SECOND HALF in the last three games.
Bernard had 223 all-purpose yards in the second half against NC State and scored the walk-off touchdown, as it were. Even against a Duke team that focused on stopping him (and did a great job of it), Bernard managed 83 second-half yards and four first downs, converting 2-of-3 third downs (his teammates converted just 3-of-8). He scored the last touchdown for the Tar Heels. Carolina couldn’t move the ball against Miami in the second half; Bernard did with 109 yards on 14 touches (his teammates had 72 yards on 15 touches). And he had both of Carolina’s third-down conversions. Oh, and Carolina’s last touchdown (in the second quarter).
Candidates being mentioned ahead of (or in the same breath as) Bernard in the ACC Player of the Year race include Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel. Not to besmirch either, who have had great seasons, but an argument could be made that NC State’s Mike Glennon has been more clutch than either of them, just without the results. (Though Glennon did beat Manuel head-to-head.) And like Bernard in rushing, Glennon leads the league in passing.
But the award isn’t decided on who the most clutch player is, or even who has the best numbers - it’s generally the best player on the best team, unless there’s an overwhelming case to be made for someone else. This will be the year to test that theory. Bernard leads the league in rushing by 38.7 yards per game and in all-purpose yards by 44.8 yards. He also leads the league in scoring by 1.5 points per game (12.9 to 11.4 from FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins).
Oh, he’s also ninth in receptions per game (4.6), including scoring more (or as many) receiving touchdowns as four of the others in the top ten in that category. In seven games, Bernard has the same (or more) total touchdowns as six other ACC quarterbacks in the top ten of passing yardage have passing touchdowns. He has one fewer touchdown then Manuel has passing TDs (16, in nine games) and just five fewer than Boyd’s total of passing TDs (20, in eight games).
If Carolina fans want Bernard to win this award - and he does have a great chance at it - they need to come to Kenan Stadium and root the Tar Heels on as they try to win out, which would give Bernard has best chance. And there’s no guarantee Bernard will even be around after this year. There’s no way you want to miss watching arguably Carolina’s most special player of the last 50 years.