UNC spring game shows promise, learning curve

acarter@newsobserver.comApril 15, 2012 

— At times during North Carolina’s spring game at Kenan Stadium on Saturday, the Tar Heels’ revamped offense provided glimpses of what it might become under first-year head coach Larry Fedora. And in other moments, it stalled amid penalties, mistakes and the kind of growing pains that come with learning something new.

North Carolina’s spring game went about as expected, then, with enough positive moments to provide hope, and plenty of rougher moments to provide opportunities to teach and to learn. The Tar Heels, Fedora said afterward, accomplished two of their three primary goals in his first spring on the job.

“One was that coming out of spring ball, that we had to have a good understanding of our base, our offense, defense and special teams – the base,” Fedora said. “The fundamentals. And we did that.”

Fedora also wanted to use the spring to identify the players he could most rely upon during the fall. Some of them stood out Saturday in a front of a crowd that North Carolina announced at 17,000.

Bryn Renner, a rising junior quarterback, completed 23 of his 28 attempts for 295 yards and two touchdowns. Renner, who guided six scoring drives, led the Blue team to a 44-21 victory against the White team, which was given 14 points at halftime to help even the score. Renner seemed unimpressed with his impressive numbers.

“Stats don’t really mean anything,” he said. “I think we need to control each other as an offense and hold ourselves accountable. I think we could have done a lot of things better today, and we’re going to have to look at the film and adjust those.

“But we need to play at a faster pace.”

A quick tempo is instrumental for the Tar Heels’ new, no-huddle, spread offense to work. And early during the scrimmage, both the Blue team and the White, led by No. 2 quarterback Marquise Williams, struggled through mistakes.

After the first three possessions, both teams had combined for three illegal formation penalties. In addition, Fedora said he found the pace to be too slow.

“For me, it was awful slow out there, and sluggish in between the plays,” he said. “So we’ve still got a ways to go in understanding the tempo. But it’s not hard to see the stress you can put on a defense when you start moving the chains a few times and you’ve got a tempo going.”

That was especially evident when the Blue team found its rhythm. Both of Renner’s touchdown passes went to running back Romar Morris – one for 17 yards and another for 21 yards. Morris, a freshman from Salisbury who spent last season redshirting, also scored on an 8-yard run.

Asked to name the last time he had made similar plays in a game, Romar said, “the state championship game in high school.” In addition to Romar, running back A.J. Blue was productive for the Blue team. He finished with 15 carries for 98 yards and a 2-yard touchdown run.

For the White team, Williams completed 17 of his 32 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. Between both teams, 16 players caught at least one pass, and that receiving diversity is likely a sign of things to come in Fedora’s version of the spread.

Giovani Bernard, a rising sophomore running back who ran for 1,253 yards last season, left the game after suffering a cut on his head. He gained 36 yards on five carries, and said he could have returned had it been an actual game.

But a real game it wasn’t – only another learning opportunity for the Tar Heels, who will practice one last time, on Monday, before entering their off-season conditioning program.

“We’re going to turn the keys over to them Monday at the end of practice,” said Blake Anderson, North Carolina’s offensive coordinator, “and let them know what they do from Monday afternoon, from when practice is over with, until fall camp starts is – I can’t stress how important it is.”

CARTER: 829-8944

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