UNC running back Giovani Bernard (center) has embraced the Tar Heels' spread offense. PHOTO: Robert Willett
CHAPEL HILL — If you haven’t already, be sure to give a read to this story I wrote about North Carolina sophomore running back Giovani Bernard, and his transition into the Tar Heels’ new spread offense.
From the story:
The spread offense, and its arrival at Notre Dame under coach Brian Kelly, is one reason Giovani Bernard rescinded his commitment to the Fighting Irish – and one reason he instead chose North Carolina. Almost three years later, though, the spread has found Bernard here, too.
Bernard a season ago ran for 1,253 yards, a North Carolina freshman record, and he joined “Famous” Amos Lawrence as the program’s only freshman running backs to earn first-team all-ACC honors. But Bernard’s accomplishments came in a traditional pro-style offense, and everything began to change around him last December.
That’s when North Carolina hired Larry Fedora, known for the potent spread offenses he led at Florida, Oklahoma State and Southern Mississippi, where he spent the past four seasons as coach. The spread is known for its reliance on quarterbacks and receivers, but not so much for running backs – at least not in the traditional sense.
That doesn’t necessarily describe Fedora’s version, which is part of the reason he felt no need to soothe potential fears Bernard might have had about how he would fit into it. That, and Fedora said, “I really hadn’t tried to comfort anybody.”
“Gio, first of all, is very intelligent,” Fedora said. “And I think he saw (that) last year we were one of only two teams the last two years to rush for over 200 (yards) and throw for over 250 … and probably the last nine to 10 years, we’ve averaged over 190 yards rushing.
“So I think Gio sees the opportunity to touch the ball more often than he has in the past.”
If Bernard had apprehensions about UNC’s transition to the spread, he hasn’t shared them. He said all the right things in spring practice. And he’s saying all the right things now, too. But his brother, Yvenson Bernard – who left Oregon State as the second-leading rusher in school history – shared an interesting anecdote about his younger brother.
Gio, of course, at one time was committed to Notre Dame. He wanted to play for Charlie Weis, in the Fighting Irish’s pro-style offense. But months before national signing day in 2010, Notre Dame fired Weis and hired Brian Kelly from Cincinnati. Kelly’s offensive style? The spread.
Gio liked Notre Dame a lot, but he wasn’t crazy over the idea of going to a school with a spread offense, his brother said. So he rescinded his commitment from Notre Dame and eventually chose to play at UNC, where he imagined he’d fit quite nicely into the Tar Heels’ pro-style offense. And of course, Gio did fit quite nicely. What he did a season ago, after missing his first season on campus due to injury, showed that.
But then came the coaching transition here, and the hiring of Fedora and the arrival of the spread. Just what Bernard tried to avoid by not signing with Notre Dame. It followed him, anyway.
The thing is, though, Bernard seems to have reached a point at which he likes this offense. Here’s what he said recently about a variety of topics related to the spread:
-on the adjustment to it from the pro-style offense from last season:
“I think the biggest adjustment would be the tempo, and I think coach Fedora is really stressing tempo. Coach Anderson is really stressing tempo in this offense. And it’s something exciting and I’m really excited to show it off to everybody.”
-on the fact that Fedora likes to run the ball in this offense:
“As an offensive coordinator, I don’t think you want to eliminate your players that you have on the field, the guys that are good on the team. So you kind of just want to continue to keep doing what we’ve been doing, you know, that’s kind of helped us produce. And of course running the ball has been one of the things. We have a great offensive line in front of us, a lot of seniors up there. They’ve done a great job so far for me last year and I think we’re going to capitalize on that.”
-how much more effective he can be in the spread:
“This offense just really spreads everything out and that gives the name – the spread offense. And coach Anderson has done a great job of kind of teaching us everything and everybody has really picked it up real quick. The spread opens up more holes. It’s more open field, more receivers on the field. So they kind of have to put more DBs and not [more] guys in the box. So I’m excited for Sept. 1.”
How will things change for Bernard, specifically, in the spread?
For one, he’s likely to be placed in a lot more positions to make plays in the open field. That’s a good thing for him, and for UNC, given his speed and his ability to make people miss. Jonathan Cooper, the senior offensive guard, had some good things to say about that in the story.
Bernard played a large role in UNC’s passing game a season ago – he caught 45 passes for 362 yards – and it makes sense that those numbers could go up this season. The spread should create even more opportunities for Bernard in the passing game, and also more mismatches against opposing defenses.