Sunday Storylines: Gio spells 'GO'
Carolina's 27-6 win over East Carolina on Saturday seemed to get the Tar Heel football team back on track after a pair of close losses on the road. The Tar Heels will look to display some consistency when they host Idaho and Virginia Tech over the next two weeks.
•Giovani Bernard, who sat out the last two games while nursing an injury, received a big cheer in Kenan Stadium when he was announced as a starter, and rightly so: the redshirt sophomore was All-ACC and Freshman All-America a year ago and brings a dynamic presence to the Tar Heel backfield. Bernard certainly made an impact, scoring a touchdown on the ground and via the air. "I told myself at the beginning of the week, I'm not going to come back unless I can do what I can, do what I've been able to do all my career," he said. after the game. In Bernard's absence, Romar Morris emerged as a playmaker in his own right. "I talked to him, and he did a great job filling in," Bernard said. "We never had just a set one running back. That was never about running back group. Every single guy could really go in there and really do what they can, and it showed the past two weeks . . .Now, it's all three of us now (Bernard, Morris and A.J Blue). Now, everybody knows that we're a powerful running back group and things happen for a reason, and I think it was to show everybody in the country that we've got three great running backs."
The Tar Heels do have talent in the backfield, but the ground game was somewhat suspect Saturday. Bernard rushed for 50 yards on 18 carries, and the longest run of the day was a Bryn Renner keeper on a busted play. Far too often, Carolina ran sideline-to-sideline, so credit goes to East Carolina for limiting that aspect of the Tar Heel offense. Still, the threat of the rush helped set up a good day for Renner, who threw for 321 yards and two scores. "He brings guys into the box," Renner said of Bernard. "Obviously, they're going to want to stop him, and it helps us out as a whole offense."
Receiver Erik Highsmith agreed. "Just a play-action to Gio can suck up a safety and get a guy behind him," he said. "Gio’s a big part of our offense. He’s the x-factor."
•Two of Carolina's three touchdowns Saturday came in the third quarter. Carolina has now outscored opponents 52-0 in the 15 minutes after halftime this season. "I don't know," Larry Fedora said of the phenomenon. "It's not the halftime speeches, I assure you. It's guys trying to come out with the same intensity level that we do at the beginning of the game. That's always a struggle for any team, is to try to come out just as intense in that second half as you do in the first half and I think our guys have maybe done a better job of that than we have at the beginning of the game."
•Certainly Carolina feels good about the final result, but there are always things that can be corrected. The Tar Heels were extremely disciplined in the opening contest against Elon, but since then have struggled with penalties. Perhaps it's natural that a team running new schemes on both sides of the ball will go through an adjustment period, but these things will need to be corrected. Penalties were costly in the two road losses, and the Tar Heels committed nine for 91 yards Saturday. Tight end Eric Ebron in particular has false started at times. He jumped Saturday on 3rd and 6 in the second quarter and on the subsequent play responded with a 34-yard reception. Still, Carolina will look to improve in that aspect of the game, as pre-snap penalties and those committed on kickoff and punt returns can cost the team valuable field position.