UNC's Jonathan Cooper and quarterback Bryn Renner (2) embrace Giovani Bernard (26) after Bernard's two yard touchdown run to give the Tar Heels' a 21-0 lead over Idaho in the first quarter. ROBERT WILLETT
Updated 9:08 p.m.
CHAPEL HILL — There were only a few thousand people left to see it, but North Carolina made history on Saturday at Kenan Stadium. Its 66-0 victory against Idaho represented the Tar Heels’ most lopsided victory in school history, and the 66 points set a school record, too.
That was the only drama left by the time the fourth quarter began – whether UNC would set those records. It had long been decided before then that the Heels would win, and win comfortably amid a driving rainstorm that – along with the score – drove away the majority of the announced crowd of 32,000.
“It says this team is very capable of doing some special things,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said of the significance of setting those records. “If we keep preparing the way we’re preparing the last couple weeks and we keep playing with a lot of energy, then we can do some really, really good things.”
The records will remain meaningful in the long term. In the short, Fedora was more pleased with how his team began a game. For the first time since perhaps the season-opening 62-0 victory against Elon, the Tar Heels (3-2) didn’t lag through the first quarter.
After weeks of slow starts, UNC scored touchdowns on four of its five first drives – all in the first quarter – and essentially put the game away after the first 15 minutes. By the end of the first quarter, the Heels led 28-0, and Idaho still sought its first 1st down.
“I think a lot of people have been really saying the Tar Heels are [a] second half [team], they can’t do much in the first half,” UNC running back Giovani Bernard said. “… That’s what we really wanted to show. We wanted to show everybody that we can do it in the first half.”
Bernard’s two carries both came in the first half and both resulted in touchdowns – one on a 2-yard run that came after UNC blocked a punt and another on a 68-yard run that was the longest of Bernard’s career. He said he last had that kind of carry-to-touchdown ratio in “Little League football.”
Which is how the Tar Heels treated the Vandals (0-5) – as if they were a group of over-matched youth. UNC led 45-0 at halftime and out-gained Idaho 575 yards to 189. Bryn Renner, the Heels’ junior quarterback, entered the second half for just a play and finished 14-of-19 for 231 yards and three touchdowns.
Idaho, which committed five turnovers, drove into UNC territory just three times. Robb Akey, the Vandals’ coach, began his postgame press conference like this: “The positive thing is the game’s over. We didn’t start well. We didn’t play well. Carolina played a hell of a game, and we didn’t.”
Sylvester Williams, the Tar Heels’ senior defensive tackle, said the game didn’t become “easy” for UNC.
“It just became fun,” Williams said. “… And when you’re having fun, you want to continue to have fun. It’s just like partying – a lot of people party because it’s fun.”
Williams and his teammates on defense had much to celebrate on Saturday. The victory gives UNC two shutouts in the same season for the first time since 1996, and in 12 quarters at Kenan this season UNC still hasn't allowed a touchdown.
In the first half, the Vandals had eight possessions. The first five ended in punts, and two of the final three ended with interceptions. That gave Williams and his defensive teammates plenty of time to watch UNC’s offense.
“When our offense is working, I just kind of sit back and look at the jumbrotron like I’m at home watching another football game,” Williams said. “… You’re like fans at that point, you’ve just got to watch the show – maybe ask for an autograph or something when they come off.”
The victory against Idaho was reminiscent of the one here on Sept. 1 against Elon. The Tar Heels played nearly flawlessly in that game, too, but followed up that performance with consecutive losses at Wake Forest and at Louisville.
Already, UNC players spoke on Saturday of avoiding a similar letdown next week against Virginia Tech.
“When we were got into Wake Forest, I’m not going to lie – we were still getting stuff together,” said Tre Boston, a UNC cornerback who had one of the team’s four interceptions on Saturday. “Now, I think we’re ready.”
At the least, the Heels were ready on Saturday, and ready from the start. In their 122nd football season, they accomplished things no UNC team ever had.