Tar Heels settling in to coach Fedora’s tempo

UNC coach hopes to see fewer penalties

acarter@newsobserver.comOctober 11, 2012 

SPORTS FBC-VATECH-UNC 13 RA

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora acknowledges the fans in the student section after the Tar Heels 48-34 victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Saturday, October 6, 2012. (Robert Willett, rwillett@newsobserver.com)

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

— Larry Fedora has encountered various checkpoints throughout his first season at North Carolina. There was the Tar Heels’ first game, their first road game, their first road game against a ranked opponent. Now has come one more: the midpoint of the season.

October isn’t yet halfway over, but the Heels are already halfway through Fedora’s first season. He cracked a joke when asked earlier this week how he’d evaluate his team after six games, with six more to go.

“The good thing is we’ve won four games, the bad is we’ve lost two,” Fedora said before offering a more detailed breakdown.

“But I think probably looking at the big picture, I think we’re tackling better on defense,” he said. “I think we’re playing as a team with a much better energy level than we did at the beginning of the season.

“I think our guys feel a little bit more comfortable in all three phases with what we’re doing, so they’re able to play a little bit faster.”

From the day UNC announced his hiring, Fedora emphasized speed and tempo. The Tar Heels didn’t come close to achieving the kind of tempo Fedora desires during their spring practice, and the learning process continued into the preseason and through UNC’s first few games.

During the Heels’ three-game winning streak, though, they’ve grasped the scaled-down version of the no-huddle spread that Fedora installed for his first season. UNC has generated more than 500 yards of offense in consecutive games, and they’ve scored more than 45 points in consecutive weeks for the first time since 1993.

History-making performances, in fact, have come often for UNC early in Fedora’s tenure. The 62-0 season-opening victory against Elon was the most lopsided season-opening victory in school history. The 66-0 victory against Idaho represented both the largest margin of victory and the most points scored in UNC history.

The Tar Heels haven’t even delved all that deep into playbook. Fedora has preferred to keep things simple.

“It’s great because we can be great at a small amount of things, and really be very, very good at those things,” UNC quarterback Bryn Renner said. “And we keep kind of reiterating it now and we’re really just kind of trying to push the tempo. I think that’s one of our biggest advantages, is that we’re going fast, playing fast and that it all is mental.”

UNC’s offensive pace might never be where Fedora wants it to be, but the Heels are averaging 73.3 plays per game, which is nearly 11 more than it averaged in 2011. That average is also in line with the 74.4 plays per game that Southern Miss averaged a season ago in Fedora’s last season there.

And though UNC has kept the offensive relatively simple, offensive coordinator Blake Anderson installed a new package that features backup quarterback Marquise Williams in the shotgun and Renner lined up as a slot receiver. That package debuted on Saturday in UNC’s 48-34 victory against Virginia Tech.

Anderson’s most potent weapon, sophomore running back Giovani Bernard, rushed for 262 yards in that victory.

“We’re on schedule for where we want to be,” Anderson said. “We’re starting to reduce mistakes, we’ve reduced penalties. In some instances, we had way too many Saturday … But we’re starting to build confidence to the point where guys are expecting themselves to make plays.”

Halfway through the season, UNC’s offense ranks fourth in the ACC, and is just one-tenth of a yard behind Georgia Tech for third place. The Tar Heels have the second-most balanced run-pass attack in the league, behind Florida State.

Fedora’s motto consists of three words – smart, fast and physical – and he has seen plenty in recent weeks of the latter two. Now, coming off a game in which UNC finished one penalty short of tying the school record, he wants to see more intelligence.

Even so, midway through his first season, the transition to a completely new offense might be going more smoothly than the players might have anticipated during the spring, when they went through practices winded, wondering when they’d finally play fast enough for Fedora.

“I think right now, at the midway point, we’re happy with where we are,” Renner said. “And we know we can be a lot better, too.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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