UNC’s Francis steals spring game show

acarter@newsobserver.comApril 13, 2013 

— Khris Francis thought on Saturday about what he might be doing at this moment if he hadn’t enrolled early at North Carolina.

“I’d probably be preparing for prom, to be honest,” he said with a smile. “Because I think that’s, like, in two weeks.”

Francis might still attend the prom, he said. And if he does, he’s likely to have a story or two to tell. Francis, who graduated early from Hillside High in Durham, ran for 101 yards on 20 carries during the Tar Heels’ annual Blue vs. White spring game.

His White team was on the losing end of a 34-10 score against the Blue, which featured starting quarterback Bryn Renner and most of the other first-team players. But final scores of spring games are less telling than individual performances, and Francis’ was among the strongest on either side for North Carolina.

It was especially impressive given that it came just three months after his arrival on campus.

Francis arrived at North Carolina with humble expectations. He said he only wanted to learn the playbook.

“I wanted to make sure that wasn’t going to be a downfall, and why I didn’t play this year or something like that,” Francis said. “So that was my main goal coming into the spring. And I think I did a pretty good job of that.”

North Carolina’s defense, though, didn’t do a great job of limiting Francis or any of the running backs. The Tar Heels’ four running backs combined to gain 250 yards – and it would have been more if not for a running clock in the second half.

Romar Morris, a rising sophomore, gained 80 yards on 15 carries and scored on a 2-yard run for the Blue team. A.J. Blue, who along with Morris is likely to fill the void left by Giovani Bernard, gained 30 yards on eight carries. He also had a 33-yard touchdown reception for the Blue team.

“Defensively, we’ve got to stop the run,” coach Larry Fedora said. “We were getting gashed in a lot of different areas.”

Overall, Fedora sounded pleased. He described the past three weeks of practice as a “great spring,” and said the Tar Heels had “come a long way.”

Yet he struggled to identify the one area in which his team had improved the most.

“That’s a tough one,” he said. “I don’t know. I know we’ve got a long way to go. Up front, on both sides of the ball, we’ve still got to do a much better job. … Offensively, I thought our tempo was just very, very average, to say the least. I didn’t think there was anything special about it.”

Fedora’s up-tempo spread offense delivered more often than not during his first season, yet it stalled early on Saturday.

The most notable surprise of the day might have been that neither team scored in the first quarter. Morris broke the scoreless tie early in the second quarter, and a few minutes later, Blue scored another touchdown on a 33-yard pass from Renner to give the Blue team a 14-0 lead.

“We just kind of needed to get into a rhythm, get some plays going, get some big plays, hit some running plays and then everything opened up,” said Renner, who completed 16 of his 27 passes for 216 yards. He threw three touchdown passes and one interception.

Mitch Trubisky, who – like Francis – is another early enrollee, started at quarterback for the White team and completed seven of his 14 attempts for 88 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. If the season began now, Fedora said Trubisky would serve as Renner’s backup.

Trubisky was frequently on the run. The defense sacked him six times – a “sack” coming merely as the result of a touch and not a tackle, given that it was a scrimmage. Kareem Martin, a rising senior defensive end, had four of those sacks, and two other tackles for loss.

“I was amped up to play,” Martin said. “… (The) spring game wraps up spring ball, so I just wanted to show everybody what I’ve been working on.”

Players both older, like Martin, and younger, like Francis, did that on Saturday. Still, Fedora was quick to turn his attention to late August, and to his team’s first game at South Carolina.

He quickly recalled how many days separated the Tar Heels from their Aug. 29 season opener.

“We’ve got a long way to go in 138 days,” Fedora said.

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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