Well-conditioned Tar Heels excelling in second halves

acarter@newsobserver.comSeptember 24, 2012 

UNC09-SP-092212-RTW

UNC's Sean Tapley (6) takes East Carolina's Joshua Hawkins (37) for a ride during a 62 yard touchdown romp on a pass completion from quarterback Bryn Renner in the third quarter at Kenan Stadium on Saturday September 22, 2012 in Chapel Hill, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

— During the moment it might have been difficult for North Carolina to understand just how much it wore down East Carolina during second half of the Tar Heels’ 27-6 victory on Saturday. But it became clearer, UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick said on Monday, in hindsight.

“We’ve seen it this week, as far as guys coming off on sacks,” said Reddick, who had one of UNC’s seven sacks on Saturday. “When we went back and looked at film [we noticed], like yeah, they were probably gassed … Even though they run a fast-paced offense, but they were little bit gassed themselves.”

Through four games a couple of simple trends have emerged for the Tar Heels – one of them positive and the other not so much. UNC hasn’t often started games with the kind of precision and speed that coach Larry Fedora desires. But the Tar Heels have started the second halves of games that way, which has helped lead to second-half dominance.

One-third of the way through the season, UNC has outscored its opponents 78-10 during the second half. The Heels have excelled especially during the third quarter, when they’ve outscored opponents 52-0.

Asked to explain those kinds of numbers after his team’s victory on Saturday, Fedora couldn’t. He cracked a joke instead, and said it certainly wasn’t because of his halftime speeches.

Bryn Renner, the UNC quarterback, continued that theme on Monday.

“I think [it’s] coach Fedora’s speeches or something like that,” he said of the quick starts after halftime. “But we just need one of those at the beginning of the game.”

Renner said he and his teammates would like to discover a “happy medium” that more aligns their play at the start of the first quarter with their play at the start of the third. But there could be another dynamic at play, too, given the Tar Heels’ quick pace of play and what they did all summer to prepare for the fast tempo that Fedora demands.

UNC, which spent the spring and summer training in a new strength and conditioning program under first-year strength coach Lou Hernandez, might simply be wearing down the opposition. That’s what Reddick, the senior linebacker, noticed when the team met on Sunday for film study.

And that’s what the numbers suggest, too. ECU gained just 71 of its 233 yards of offense after halftime on Saturday. The week before, at Louisville, the Cardinals gained 102 of their 462 yards during the second half.

Like the defense, the Tar Heels’ offense has played better in the second half in each of the past two weeks. The second half dominance could merely be the results of halftime adjustments and better execution. Or it could be the fruits of summer labor – afternoons spent running and running some more.

“It started back in the summer, and the amount of work that these guys did in the summer, it was probably more running than they had ever done in their lives,” Fedora said. “And knowing the way that we were going to play, the way we were going to practice – those two things alone, you can’t not be in shape.

“Or you won’t be able to make it through the day.”

Fedora and Hernandez first worked alongside one another at Florida from 2002-04. Fedora was an offensive assistant coach there, and later the offensive coordinator, while Hernandez served as assistant strength and conditioning coach.

Hernandez then moved on to Illinois, where he was head strength coach for seven seasons. After Fedora hired Hernandez at UNC, the two outlined a conditioning plan based on Fedora’s philosophies.

“He knew what we wanted to try to do offensively and defensively, and the way we wanted to try to play the game,” Fedora said. “And so I’m sure everything was designed around those things.”

Reddick smiled on Monday while he struggled to describe Hernandez’s workout program.

“I can’t really explain it,” he said. “It’s just been putting us through a lot, basically. [It is] probably one of the hardest conditioning programs … a lot more running. A lot more speed work.”

Even during long summer days when the season still seemed far away, UNC’s strength program emphasized the importance of finishing, Renner said. The various drills referenced fourth quarters that might have seemed far away at the time, but are now here.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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