After the first day of spring football practice, quarterback Bryn Renner said the offense's goal was to run 80 plays per game. A year ago, Carolina ran 898 plays in 12 games, just under 75 per game. So the Tar Heels want to push the tempo and get that number creeping a bit higher. Before we get into that, let's look at the 2012 numbers as compared to previous years.
The 441 pass attempts in 2012 were the most in school history. The 2002 and 2003 Tar Heels come the closest, with 433 and 429, respectively. Incidentally, that was Gunter Brewer's first stint as wide receivers coach (under head coach John Bunting and offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill). Those Tar Heel teams were a combined 5-19.
Last year, Carolina had 457 rush attempts. That number is the most in a 12-game season since 2001 (Carolina had 477 rush attempts in 13 games in 2009).
So that breaks down to about 38 rushes and 37 pass attempts per game in 2012. That's more balanced that even I realized while watching the season. Before Fedora's first Tar Heel team made a down, much was made (and rightly so) about the spread offense, and many just assumed that the Tar Heels would be slinging the ball all over the place. Well, they did, but it was certainly a balanced attack.
Right after the Fedora hire was announced, I overheard a few fellow writers talking at Kenan Stadium. One of them seemed to indicate that Renner ought to transfer. The writer reasoned that Renner had spent three years in John Shoop's pro-style offense, and the adjustment to Fedora and Blake Anderson's spread offense would be tough. 'He can go just about anywhere,' this writer said, 'Or he could got the FCS route and play right away.' This was one of those conversations in which not everyone may be in agreement, but no one wants to argue, so you just kind of say, 'Yep, yep.' I wasn't directly involved in the conversation, so from a distance I just kind of furrowed my brow and shook my head. Would there be an adjustment for Renner at Carolina? Sure. But he had played in a very similar offense in high school to great success.
Well, Renner set school records in total offense (3,394 yards), passing touchdowns (28) in just 12 games. His 2012 season was second only to T.J. Yates (who played 13 games in 2010) in single-season passing yards (3,356) and completions (276). Consider the question answered.
Now, the Tar Heels want to spring forward, to push the tempo even faster. Five more plays per game may seem easily doable, but it means getting the ball in the hands of the offense, reading a defense and getting a play call in faster. I think fans (and opposing teams) may have overlooked Renner or taken him for granted since he shared a backfield with Giovani Bernard. Meanwhile, he was posting eye-popping numbers. Now, Renner's not going to sneak up on anybody.
After last week's scrimmage in Charlotte, Fedora said that Renner was picking up right where he left off in 2012. "[He] has moved forward from there, so he’s worked hard on being a good leader and managing the game, and I think you saw a little bit of that tonight," Fedora said. In that scrimmage, Renner did not turn the ball over, stayed calm under pressure and got the ball to what seemed like a dozen different receivers.
Speaking of receivers, Renner will no longer have two significant options from 2012: Bernard and Erik Highsmith. Bernard was a great safety valve when plays broke down, or catch-and-go screen receiver. Highsmith was the stalwart senior who hauled in 54 passes. In his first two years, Renner has had a senior (Dwight Jones in 2011) that he could rely on. In 2012, freshman phenom Quinshad Davis emerged as a true stud in the passing game. His 61 catches and 776 yards led the team, and his five touchdowns were tied with Bernard, Highsmith and Sean Tapley (who also returns) for the team lead. Renner said he and Davis have developed a great rapport that will carry the passing game. "I trust him a lot down the stretch," he said of Davis. "He’s my go-to guy, and he’s really workked hard in the off-season, just getting bigger, faster and stronger with Coach Lou (Hernandez) and he’s going to have a great year."
This year, Tapley has moved from the slot to the outside receiver while sophomore Kendrick Singleton, who is having a terrific spring, moves inside. Carolina does have pass-catching options in the backfield in Romar Morris and A.J. Blue, and junior tight ends Jack Tabb and Eric Ebron (who is not participating in spring practice) are valuable in the passing game as well.
The Carolina offense kept defenses on their heels with the fast tempo in 2012, and they'll look to do the same, and go even faster, in 2013. But this spring is vitally important for the Tar Heels themselves to get conditioned and ready to execute this fall. Eighty plays per game is a lofty goal, but it is doable, Fedora says. "You keep shaving off seconds, and as guys become more aware and it becomes really important to them and it becomes it’s in their DNA to go fast in everything they do, they’ll get faster."