After consecutive losses, the Tar Heels had reason to smile on Saturday. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — When North Carolina resumes practice on Tuesday, the Tar Heels’ focus will turn to preparing for Idaho, which visits Kenan Stadium on Saturday.
But first, one last look back at UNC’s 27-6 victory against ECU on Saturday.
Three things to take away from UNC 27, ECU 6:
1. Welcome back, Gio. In his first game back since suffering a knee injury in the Heels’ season-opening 62-0 victory against Elon, Giovani Bernard scored two touchdowns and finished with 102 yards of offense. It wasn’t one of Bernard’s best games, but he’ll take it. After two weeks of speculation about his status, he’s back.
2. Bryn Renner is starting to get it. Renner seems to be becoming more and more comfortable in the Tar Heels’ spread offense. After throwing for a career-high 363 yards in the loss at Louisville, Renner threw for 321 against ECU. No other quarterback in school history has thrown for more yards in consecutive games.
3. The defense bounces back. In its past six quarters, the UNC defense has allowed just three field goals. Not bad for a unit that was torched in the first half at Louisville, and struggled in the fourth quarter at Wake Forest earlier this month.
Things to build on:
--The defensive performance. After breakdowns in consecutive weeks in losses at Wake Forest and Louisville, the Tar Heels showed off their defensive might against the Pirates. No, ECU isn’t an offensive juggernaut, but the Tar Heels finished with seven sacks, which would be impressive against any team. UNC’s defense needed a whole, complete performance – and for the most part that’s what Saturday represented.
--Giovani Bernard’s return. Even though A.J. Blue and Romar Morris played well in Bernard’s absence, you got the sense that something was just missing from the Tar Heels’ offense in those losses at Wake Forest and Louisville. Bernard’s return instantly makes the UNC offense more potent, and it should also allow offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to be more confident with his play calling.
Things to improve:
--Once again, UNC seemed to come out a bit flat on Saturday. The Tar Heels never trailed, and the defense held ECU to a pair of field goals after two long drives stalled in the Heels’ red zone. Even so, UNC allowed ECU to hang around and hang around. The Tar Heels led 10-6 at halftime, and took control of the game with a touchdown-turnover-touchdown flurry early in the third quarter. UNC coach Larry Fedora wants to see some of those game-changing plays in the first half.
--In addition to the somewhat slow start, the Heels were sloppy on Saturday. They committed a season-high nine penalties for 91 yards – many of them coming before the snap. Those kinds of things – false starts, for instance – infuriate Fedora.
The final word:
UNC’s 27-6 victory against ECU was the Tar Heels’ most complete performance to date, and it could be a catalyst for the final two-thirds of the season.