Instant gratification for Fedora, Tar Heels

Fedora’s Heels roll to 11th-highest point total, most in coaching debut

acarter@newsobserver.comSeptember 2, 2012 

  • He’s on the board Larry Fedora’s debut against Elon couldn’t have gone much better. UNC’s 62-0 win set a record for most points in a coach’s debut. Here’s how UNC’s previous five head coaches fared in their first game:
    Year Coach W-L Opponent Score
    2011Everett WithersWJames Madison42-10
    2007Butch DavisWJames madison37-14
    2001John BuntingLat Oklahoma41-27
    1998Carl TorbushWVirginia Tech* 42-3
    1988Mack BrownLat S. Carolina31-10
    * Gator Bowl

— When the University of North Carolina introduced Larry Fedora as its head football coach last December, some of the first words Fedora said were these: “It’s going to be exciting. You better buckle your seatbelts and you better hold on because it’s going to be a wild ride.”

He promised an energetic, up-tempo, no-huddle offense that would score often. He spoke of an attacking, swarming defense. And about explosive plays on special teams. Yet for all of his expectations, Fedora wasn’t quite sure what to expect Saturday before the Tar Heels began the season at Kenan Stadium against Elon.

Even his most optimistic vision might not have mirrored the reality of the Tar Heels’ 62-0 victory. It was a dominant, impressive performance in Fedora’s debut – one that had UNC officials flipping through the school’s football record book to compare this victory with some of the most prolific in school history.

Fedora grinned afterward when asked if things could have gone any smoother.

“Obviously, we could have not turned it over two times and we had three penalties,” he said. “So they could have been smoother.”

Not by much, though. UNC compiled 524 yards against the overmatched Phoenix, an FCS team from the Southern Conference. The Tar Heels broke a 25-year-old ACC record for punt return yardage with 260 yards, and held Elon to an average of 2.4 yards per play.

In just one half, UNC sophomore running back Giovani Bernard amassed 203 all-purpose yards. He scored the first three touchdowns of the game in three ways – on a 59-yard run, a 6-yard reception and a 70-yard punt return.

“Unbelievable,” said quarterback Bryn Renner, who passed for 236 yards and three touchdowns. “I think that was Heisman worthy.”

Bernard left the game late in the second quarter with an unspecified injury. He did not return, though Fedora said Bernard could have played in the second half had he been needed. But he wasn’t needed – not after UNC built a 41-0 halftime lead, and not after the Heels scored three more touchdowns during the third quarter.

Fedora acknowledged that maybe the Heels looked close to perfect to the naked eye. But he counted more mistakes than Renner’s first-half interception and A.J. Blue’s fumble, which ended a promising third-quarter drive.

“There were plenty of mistakes out there,” Fedora said. “I know from the naked eye, it looks like, ‘Wow.’ But there were plenty of mistakes in that game. There will be plenty of butt-chewing, I assure you.”

Fedora said he received some of that himself, from his own offensive coordinator. With a few minutes remaining in the third quarter, Fedora told Blake Anderson, the UNC offensive coordinator, to call off the aggression.

The Heels then primarily used running plays to melt away the clock, and North Carolina remained stuck on 62 points – just three short of tying the school record of 65, which has stood since 1914. The total was the 11th-highest, and most by a coach in his debut.

Like Fedora, Anderson said he wasn’t sure what to expect. What he saw was an offense that clearly grasped the base concepts of Fedora’s version of the spread – albeit against an overmatched opponent.

Renner and Marquise Williams, the backup quarterback who took over for Renner early in the third quarter, completed passes to 14 players. Among them were Roy Smith, a walk-on, and Mark McNeill, a UNC lacrosse player who joined the football team in 2010.

“They came from everywhere,” Anderson said of all the players who caught passes. “We might have had a soccer player or two out there, I don’t know.”

The shutout was UNC’s first since a 38-0 victory against Duke in 1999. The Tar Heels forced two turnovers, and Sylvester Williams, the senior defensive tackle who lost 30 pounds in the offseason, finished with a pair of sacks.

Elon made it into North Carolina territory just twice, and gave away its best scoring opportunity with an interception in the second quarter after the Phoenix had reached the UNC 15-yard line. Williams tipped the pass that led to the turnover.

“I tell all my d-linemen, the guys, I tell them all the time – I say, man, we’ve got to be a dominant group,” Williams said. “ … And I have to take that personally and try to be a big-time player myself.”

He was on Saturday. Then again, he had plenty of company in the first game of what North Carolina has branded as a new era for its football program. When it ended, UNC’s players gathered in front of the band and the student section and celebrated as the instruments blared.

Fedora walked off the field and through the tunnel, waving his hand to the beat of the fight song. It was a moment he had long been waiting to experience.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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