UNC will be without running back Giovani Bernard on Saturday at No. 19 Louisville. ROBERT WILLETT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For the second consecutive week, North Carolina on Saturday will be without its best running back.
Giovani Bernard did not travel on Friday with the Tar Heels to Louisville, where UNC will play the 19th-ranked Cardinals on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Kevin Best, a UNC football team spokesman, confirmed Bernard’s absence.
Jheranie Boyd, a senior receiver, also did not make the trip, Best said. Boyd watched practices earlier this week while wearing a protective boot on his foot.
Bernard, who set a UNC freshman record a season ago with 1,253 rushing yards, suffered his injury against Elon after he compiled 203 all-purpose yards. He scored three touchdowns, and then left the game late in the second quarter.
Boyd, meanwhile, caught one pass each against Elon and Wake Forest. His reception against Elon went for a 35-yard touchdown.
In Bernard’s absence, junior running back A.J. Blue is likely to start for the second consecutive week. Blue ran for 106 yards last week in a 28-27 loss at Wake Forest, while Romar Morris, a redshirt freshman, gained 70 yards on 14 carries.
Roy Smith, a walk-on who also runs track, is likely to continue handling the Tar Heels’ punt return duties in place of Bernard, who against Elon returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown. Mark McNeil, a former walk-on from UNC’s lacrosse team, will likely start in place of Boyd at one of the Heels’ three starting receiver spots.
McNeil also started the season-opener against Elon.
UNC coach Larry Fedora doesn’t publicly discuss injuries, and so a timetable for the return of Bernard and Boyd – or even an official diagnoses of their injuries – hasn’t been released. Fedora earlier in the week spoke with optimism about Bernard’s status.
“Gio practiced yesterday, and said he felt fine,” Fedora said on Wednesday, the final day of the week that he speaks with reporters. “So we'll see how that goes.”
Earlier in the week, Fedora spoke of how much UNC missed Bernard last week at Wake Forest. The Tar Heels especially missed him in the red zone, where two of UNC’s second-half drives stalled.
The Heels had to settle for short field goals on both of those drives, and Fedora said his team’s inability to punctuate those possessions with touchdowns proved to be the difference between winning and losing.
“It’s hard to say how much we missed him,” Fedora said of Bernard. “If he’s not on the field, it’s obvious we missed him.”