CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina did well enough on Saturday in the debut of its up-tempo, no-huddle spread offense. The Tar Heels ran 74 plays – 12 more than they averaged a season ago – and scored more points than they had in any game since 1995.
Even so, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner was critical of his performance in the moments after his team’s 62-0 victory against Elon. And then, when Renner later on Saturday watched Oregon’s 57-34 victory against Arkansas State, he said he felt “embarrassed.”
The Ducks run a fast-paced spread similar to the one that coach Larry Fedora has installed in his first season at UNC. But Renner noticed how quickly Oregon ran its offense, and how little time it wasted between plays.
“I was embarrassed because we weren’t going as fast as them,” said Renner, who completed 14 of his 21 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. “And coach [Blake] Anderson came in the next day and said the same thing.”
Anderson, the UNC offensive coordinator, wasn’t satisfied with the Tar Heels’ pacing on Saturday – not even after they ran 43 plays during the first half. So on Sunday, after Anderson, Fedora and the rest of the coaching staff had a chance to evaluate film of the Elon game, they reminded the Tar Heels of the preferred tempo.
To put it simply, Renner said on Monday, “I got chewed out by them.”
Fedora described his team’s tempo in the Elon victory as “still not close to where we want it to be.” Yet he said there is no magical point on the play clock at which he demands a play to begin, either.
“We really don’t talk about a number on the clock,” he said. “Just, we want to go fast. So what is fast? I don’t know. Just go fast … I mean, we want to get the ball snapped as quickly as possible.”
The problems that Fedora and his staff identified during their film study focused on the delay Renner and his teammates sometimes had in moving to the line of scrimmage. A long play might develop, and instead of running ahead and keeping pace, Renner might stand behind and watch.
He said that habit developed in practice, when the offense remains stationary between plays.
“I sound like a broken record saying it every week,” Renner said of talking about tempo. “But in practice, we don’t move the ball – the ball doesn’t move up. So we kind of stay in a neutral position. As far as if we hit a long play, it’s going to come right back to the spot. So I kind of just stand there.”
Renner did the same in certain moments on Saturday, and he heard about it from both Fedora and Anderson. Renner, though, was far from the only culprit.
Giovani Bernard, the sophomore running back who amassed 203 all-purpose yards, was caught running behind a time or two, too. Bernard on Saturday scored three touchdowns in three ways – on a 59-yard run, a 6-yard reception and a 70-yard punt return.
He left the game before halftime with an apparent knee injury but on Monday said, “I feel great,” and that he had no doubt he’d be ready to play at Wake Forest on Saturday. Bernard didn’t want to talk much about why he left the game on Saturday, but acknowledged the need for the offense to move with more urgency.
“We talked to coach Anderson, and he said there’s times we all sat around and really just watched a play – and not really running up to the ball and getting ready for the next play,” Bernard said. “There are four or five times where we could have gotten an extra play or two off.”
In that Oregon game, Renner watched while the Ducks ran 96 plays – 59 of which came in the first half. Even against an overmatched FCS opponent from the Southern Conference, the Heels didn’t come close to matching those numbers in their debut of Fedora’s offense.
But it gave UNC a starting point, nonetheless. Fedora said he was impressed how well his players had mastered the basics of the game plan on offense, defense and special teams. And it was a clean game for the Tar Heels, who had two turnovers but committed just three penalties.
Still, it was far from the perfect performance the final score and stats might have indicated. Renner blamed himself, most of all, for the problems in pacing.
“I kind of let the team down in that regard,” he said, “of not pushing the tempo. It’s like a fast-break offense, you know, we’ve got to get up and call the next play, and that starts with me. So I can’t be a spectator – I might as well just buy a ticket.”