GREENVILLE — Redshirt sophomore Bryn Renner threw for four touchdowns Saturday, the most by a North Carolina quarterback since Darian Durant did it in 2003.
But Renner's most important throw during UNC's 35-20 victory at East Carolina may have been his first incompletion.
Under pressure from Pirates linebacker Kyle Tudor on a second-and-5, Renner chose to throw the ball away to the sideline - something that Renner, a first-year starter, had been hesitant to do in games past, often resulting in sacks or interceptions. UNC ended up punting on that particular series, but it set a pattern for Renner, who finished with zero sacks and zero picks.
"I thought Bryn was sharp tonight," UNC coach Everett Withers said after Renner's 13-for-20, 230-yard performance. "When there were chances for him to try to [force] something to happen, he threw it away. And that shows growth in a guy, and I'm really proud of him."
Renner and the Tar Heels (4-1) took advantage of ECU's mistakes early, turning Pirates' turnovers on three straight possessions into a 14-0 lead.
Then freshman tailback Gio Bernard (24 carries, 146 yards) made it 21-0 early in the second quarter on a 10-yard run to the end zone; he surpassed 100 yards on that series, and UNC never looked back.
"You run the football," Withers said, "and any passing game can be good."
Renner, too, credited his tailbacks and offensive line for opening up the passing game - but he was also helped by the strong play of his receivers.
Junior Erik Highsmith didn't look like a guy who had missed the previous game with an ankle injury when he caught his 75-yard touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, senior Dwight Jones (six catches, 93 yards) continued to add plays to his highlight reel when he snagged a batted ball for a 47-yard touchdown to make it 28-3 at halftime, and again when he grabbed a one-handed, 4-yard touchdown pass to cap a game-sealing, 69-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
"He should be one of the top receivers in the country," Renner said of Jones. "With the plays he made tonight, there's no doubt in my mind."
Renner was key, though, too - not just because of the plays he made, but the ones he didn't try to force. After being sacked seven times and throwing two interceptions at Georgia Tech the weekend before, he was focused Saturday on making the plays he could, and throwing the ball away when he couldn't.
"This is a huge boost," he said. "Just the way we played last week against Georgia Tech, we weren't happy. ... This feels a whole lot better."