Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wingate gets national TV game

The South Atlantic Conference gets a dose of the national college football limelight Thursday night when Wingate faces Carson-Newman in Jefferson City, Tenn., at 8 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.

Wingate (2-2, 1-0 SAC) are coming off a 43-12 victory last week against Brevard, in which the Bulldogs rolled up 410 yards in total offense. Quarterback Robbie Nallenweg threw for 244  yards and three touchdowns, with receiver Chris Bowden catching seven passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Carson-Newman (2-1, 1-1) dropped to .500 in the league with a 47-22 loss against Newberry. The Eagles hurt themselves with mistakes, being penalized 15 times for 96 yard. The Carson-Newman defense also allowed the Wolves 565 yards in total offense. -- David Scott

Monday, September 24, 2012

N.C. State RB Tony Creecy expected to return vs. Miami

N.C. State sophomore running back Tony Creecy returned to the top of the Wolfpack depth chart on Monday but freshman Shadrach Thornton also will play against Miami on Saturday.

Creecy missed N.C. State's 52-14 win over The Citadel last Saturday with an undisclosed injury, as did James Washington. With Mustafa Greene suspended for the second straight week, that left Thornton, a freshman, who ran for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first college game.

Thornton is second on the depth chart, behind Creecy, who has 130 yards on 31 carries in three games.

"We are going into the week with Creecy and Thornton and we'll see where the week ends up," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said Monday.

O'Brien did not provide an update on Greene, who has rushed for 101 yards in two games, including one start.

O'Brien said Creecy could have been used in case of emergency against The Citadel but Thornton's play eliminated any need to risk Creecy's health.

Thornton impressed O'Brien with both his toughness and running ability.

"Maybe we found something in Shadrach," O'Brien said. "Certainly what he showed Saturday, he could be a pretty dang good running back."

-- J.P. Giglio

Rewind: Duke vs. Memphis

Think about it: Duke gave the ball away four times and still won. Five years ago, that would have been unimaginable. But yesterday, despite Duke, as Brandon Connette put it, "shooting itself in the foot" the entire first half and on the opening drive of the second half, the Blue Devils ended up with a 38-14 win over Memphis.

The Blue Devils were happy after the game. Head coach David Cutcliffe attributed this to the fact that the team got better as the game went on, and not so much because Duke is 3-1 for the first time since 2008 (and, before that 1994).

Here's a look back:

The epigraph:

"Duke thoroughly dominated us - their defense versus our offense, it's pretty evident. It's just hard to win when you get handled like that on one side of the ball." --Memphis head coach Justin Fuente

What we learned:

Duke is not a fire-and-brimstone bunch

Did we know this already? If so, Saturday's events just confirm that fact. Let's review what happened in the first half:

*On Duke's opening drive Josh Snead, for the first time in his career, fumbled in the red zone, negating a successful fake punt and another fourth-down conversion after Memphis jumped offsides

*After the defense limited the Tigers' first drive to 14 yards, Lee Butler muffed a punt, giving Memphis the ball right back at the Duke 23-yard line

*When Butler avoided the next Memphis punt, the ball was downed at the 3-yard line, and Sean Renfree promptly threw an interception to Memphis's Wynton McManis, who easily scored

*Special teams gave up a 95-yard kickoff return to Bobby McCain, who, by the way, was caught from behind by Issac Blakeney. This was my featured matchup in the game preview. Just saying.

*The running game started off with two yards after nine carries. Take out the 58-yard run by Jela Duncan, and the rushing game had netted four yards on 11 carries.

*The score at halftime was 17-14 Duke. The Blue Devils were favored by 23.5 points.

So, what happened at halftime? Here's three different takes:

DE Kenny Anunike: "We went into the locker room and we all knew what to do. We went in there and there wasn't too much hootin' and hollerin'. We knew that we had to come out and show them that this is our house."

WR Conner Vernon: "He (Cutcliffe) was basically like, 'just go out there and work, execute and have fun. Let the game come to you."

Cutcliffe: "I wasn't just chewing people at halftime. I just pointed out some things. I called myself out in the process of doing that. I didn't have to say a whole lot."

So, there doesn't appear to have been a "check your manhood," Larry Fedora-type speech in the locker room. Apparently, Duke didn't need one to spark the turnaround. Every team is different.

Duke may have found an answer for the running game

And his name is Jela Duncan. The true freshman came into the game in the second quarter (his first apperance in the first half this year) and instantly took a pitch on a left sweep 58 yards. He also caught an "ill-advised" (Cutcliffe's words) swing pass that was thrown behind him on third-and-5 and took it 14 yards for on the first drive of the third quarter.

"We've got to try and get the running game started so we can feed off the passing game," Duncan said. "Coach stressed that we have to get the ball downhill, keep on running it outside whenever we could. We just tried to establish the run."

Duncan finished with nine carries for 88 yards. That's the most productive night for a freshman running back since Desmond Scott rushed for 100 against NC Central in 2008.

Brandon Connette is still the preferred red zone option

Before Connette switched positions, most of his action as backup quarterback came in the red zone, when he would replace Renfree under center. Now that Connette can line up at WR, TE or RB, Renfree stays in the game, but most of the snaps still go to Connette in a wildcat formation.

Duke took 18 snaps in the red zone. Connette received seven of those, rushing six times and throwing once (he also caught a touchdown pass from Renfree). A running back received seven of the remaining snaps, and, when you subtract out the fumble that wasn't given to any one player, that left three red zone snaps for Renfree. He completed all three passes, and two resulted in touchdowns.

Just a hunch, but I bet there's not another team in a traditional passing offense that has a starting quarterback who only took three of 18 red zone snaps.

By the numbers

1 missed third-down conversion for Duke in the second half (8-of-9). The Blue Devils were 1-of-17 in the previous three halves

6 more catches needed by Conner Vernon to set a new ACC career-high for receptions

12 sacks for the defense in four games

17 sacks for the 2011 defense in 12 games

151 points for the offense so far this season. That's the third-highest mark in Duke history (behind the Duke teams in 1945 (162) and 1943 (156))

Quick slants

Thumbs up: The defense held Memphis to zero passing yards in the second quarter. The 152 total offensive yards by the Tigers was the lowest for a Duke opponent in the Cutcliffe era. It was also the fourth time in the past five years Duke has held an opponent to under 200 yards of total offense  (170 yards, Maryland 2010; 196 yards, Virginia 2009; 181 yards, NC Central 2009)

Thumbs down: Four turnovers won't cut it against Wake Forest next week, which is for all intensive purposes Duke's Super Bowl. Beat the Deacs, bowl hopes stay alive. Lose, and their all-but mathematically gone.

Game Ball

QB Sean Renfree

Duncan is tempting, but Renfree drew higher praise than normal from Cutcliffe after the game.

"19 [Renfree] played with a little edge that we want to see," Cutcliffe said. How about him with a run at a critical time for a conversion (25 yards on third-and-11in the fourth quarter) and a big play on a drive we needed to score a touchdown. He can do those things and I liked the edge. I liked it a lot."

Renfree finished 26-of-37 for 314 yards and four touchdowns (against one interception). The four scores tie a career-high.

The epilogue

"It just goes to show the depth and talent on this team and the will to fight. Nobody was ready to back down or lay down. Nobody's head was hanging in the locker room. We knew how good we were." --Vernon

-- Laura Keeley

UNC 27, ECU 6: The final word

CHAPEL HILL -- When North Carolina resumes practice on Tuesday, the Tar Heels' focus will turn to preparing for Idaho, which visits Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

But first, one last look back at UNC's 27-6 victory against ECU on Saturday.

Three things to take away from UNC 27, ECU 6:

1. Welcome back, Gio. In his first game back since suffering a knee injury in the Heels' season-opening 62-0 victory against Elon, Giovani Bernard scored two touchdowns and finished with 102 yards of offense. It wasn't one of Bernard's best games, but he'll take it. After two weeks of speculation about his status, he's back.

2. Bryn Renner is starting to get it. Renner seems to be becoming more and more comfortable in the Tar Heels' spread offense. After throwing for a career-high 363 yards in the loss at Louisville, Renner threw for 321 against ECU. No other quarterback in school history has thrown for more yards in consecutive games.

3. The defense bounces back. In its past six quarters, the UNC defense has allowed just three field goals. Not bad for a unit that was torched in the first half at Louisville, and struggled in the fourth quarter at Wake Forest earlier this month.

Things to build on:

• The defensive performance. After breakdowns in consecutive weeks in losses at Wake Forest and Louisville, the Tar Heels showed off their defensive might against the Pirates. No, ECU isn't an offensive juggernaut, but the Tar Heels finished with seven sacks, which would be impressive against any team. UNC's defense needed a whole, complete performance - and for the most part that's what Saturday represented.

• Giovani Bernard's return. Even though A.J. Blue and Romar Morris played well in Bernard's absence, you got the sense that something was just missing from the Tar Heels' offense in those losses at Wake Forest and Louisville. Bernard's return instantly makes the UNC offense more potent, and it should also allow offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to be more confident with his play calling.

Things to improve:

• Once again, UNC seemed to come out a bit flat on Saturday. The Tar Heels never trailed, and the defense held ECU to a pair of field goals after two long drives stalled in the Heels' red zone. Even so, UNC allowed ECU to hang around and hang around. The Tar Heels led 10-6 at halftime, and took control of the game with a touchdown-turnover-touchdown flurry early in the third quarter. UNC coach Larry Fedora wants to see some of those game-changing plays in the first half.

• In addition to the somewhat slow start, the Heels were sloppy on Saturday. They committed a season-high nine penalties for 91 yards - many of them coming before the snap. Those kinds of things - false starts, for instance - infuriate Fedora.

The final word:

UNC's 27-6 victory against ECU was the Tar Heels' most complete performance to date, and it could be a catalyst for the final two-thirds of the season.

Friday, September 14, 2012

UNC RB Giovani Bernard does not travel to Louisville

UNC will be without running back Giovani Bernard, center, on Saturday at No. 19 Louisville. AP photo
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For the second consecutive week, North Carolina will be without its best running back.

Giovani Bernard did not travel Friday to Louisville, where the Tar Heels will play the 19th-ranked Cardinals at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Kevin Best, a UNC football team spokesman, confirmed Bernard's absence.

Jheranie Boyd, a senior receiver, also did not make the trip, Best said. Boyd watched practices this week while wearing a protective boot on his foot.

Bernard, who set a school freshman record a season ago with 1,253 rushing yards, was injured during the season opener against Elon after he compiled 203 all-purpose yards. He scored three touchdowns, and then left the game late in the second quarter.

Boyd caught one pass each against Elon and Wake Forest. His reception against Elon went for a 35-yard touchdown.

In Bernard's absence, junior A.J. Blue likely is to start for the second consecutive week. Blue ran for 106 yards last week in a 28-27 loss at Wake Forest, and Romar Morris, a redshirt freshman, gained 70 yards on 14 carries.

Roy Smith, a walk-on who also runs track, likely is to continue handling the Tar Heels' punt return duties in place of Bernard, who against Elon returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown. Mark McNeil, a former walk-on from UNC's lacrosse team, likely will start in place of Boyd.

McNeil also started the opener against Elon.

Coach Larry Fedora doesn't publicly discuss injuries, so a timetable for the return of Bernard and Boyd - or even an official diagnoses of their injuries - hasn't been released. Fedora this week spoke with optimism about Bernard's status.

"Gio practiced yesterday, and said he felt fine," Fedora said Wednesday. "So we'll see how that goes."

Fedora also spoke of how much UNC missed Bernard last week at Wake Forest. The Tar Heels especially missed him in the red zone, where two second-half drives stalled and resulted in short field goals.

"It's hard to say how much we missed him," Fedora said of Bernard. "If he's not on the field, it's obvious we missed him."

- Andrew Carter

Monday, September 10, 2012

UNC QB Bryn Renner: Hard hit did not affect play against Wake Forest

CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner said on Monday that the hard hit he endured on Saturday at Wake Forest didn't affect his play.

"I just want to clear that up for everybody," he said, adding that any mistakes he made after that play weren't a result of it.

The nasty collision happened early in the second quarter of Wake's eventual 28-27 victory. On a 3rd-and-goal play from the Demon Deacons' 1-yard line, Renner scrambled to his right and attempted to break through the goal line.

But Wake safety Duran Lowe stopped Renner short. Renner collided at full speed with Lowe and another Demon Deacons defender, and the hit knocked Renner to the ground for several moments. The collision solicited an audible "ooooooh" in the press box at BB&T Field, and a hush fell over the crowd while UNC medical personnel tended to Renner on the field. He eventually walked off without much assistance, and sat out the next play - a 1-yard touchdown run from A.J. Blue that tied the game at 14.

Renner returned for UNC's next possession. He ran for a loss of two yards, threw an incomplete pass and then fumbled when Hasan Hazime sacked him. Hazime recovered the fumble, and Wake turned the turnover into a touchdown a few plays later.

UNC coach Larry Fedora on Monday defended his decision to put Renner back into the game after that jarring hit.

"After going back and evaluating it, it [had] nothing to do with his head," Fedora said. "I mean, there was no contact to his head. He got the wind knocked out of him. And got hit pretty good. Actually, the two guys that made contact with themselves - it was a pretty violent hit on each other.

"[Renner] didn't get the most of it, I can assure you. He really came out of it fine physically."

Renner said he passed two concussion tests after the collision. He took one in the moments after sustaining the blow, and another at halftime.

Asked what those concussion tests entail, Renner described them this way:

"The basic protocol - months backwards, hand to nose. Things like that. Walk in straight lines. It's almost like a sobriety test - I've seen one on TV, I haven't taken one. I don't want to put that out there, but I've seen it on TV."

Renner has had a concussion before. He suffered one last season at N.C. State.

"This year, it was a different type of thing," he said. "It was more my ribs, and getting the wind knocked out of me."

- Andrew Carter

UNC football: Giovani Bernard watch continues

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina sophomore running back Giovani Bernard said exactly one week ago that he felt “great.” This was after Bernard had left the Tar Heels’ season-opening victory against Elon with an apparent knee injury.

Bernard sat out the second half of that game, which wasn’t a surprise, anyway, given the lopsided score. And then he sat out the entirety of UNC’s 28-27 loss against Wake Forest on Saturday.

By then, Bernard’s absence wasn’t necessarily a surprise; rumors had spread on various Internet forums that suggested maybe Bernard wasn’t as healthy as Bernard and coach Larry Fedora were letting on. Plus, Bernard appeared to be limited in practice last week.

The question now, of course, is when will Bernard be back? This weekend at Louisville? The following weekend at home against East Carolina? Asked earlier today about Bernard’s status, Fedora said this:

“Yesterday, he moved around really well – said he felt good. So we’ll see tomorrow when he gets out on the field. But he felt good yesterday, I know that, moving around. He did everything everybody else did.”

Of course, we’ve heard that before. At least we’ve heard an iteration of that before.

Fedora last week gave no indication that Bernard’s status for the Wake game was in doubt. And that wasn’t a surprise, either, given Fedora’s reluctance – or, in some cases, his refusal – to provide injury updates.

Fedora earlier today basically repeated what he said on Saturday when asked why Bernard hadn’t played. Had Bernard endured setback during practice last week? Had he simply been too overconfident that he’d be able to bounce back from whatever injury he suffered against Elon?

“I think maybe a little of both,” Fedora said. “… He wants to get out there. He wants to be out there every snap, you know. It’s like during camp. You might have the threes out there and all of a sudden you see him, he’s out there with them. I’m like, what are you doing? Well, I want to play. I want to get all the reps.

“So that’s just – that’s him. He wants to be out there. I don’t think he’ll ever – I know every time I talk to him, he’s like, yeah, I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready. Just before the game just didn’t feel right. So I don’t want to put him in that situation.”

So there you have it. Will Bernard play against Louisville? Definitely maybe. Or is it maybe definitely?

Perhaps we’ll just see on Saturday.

- Andrew Carter

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Thunderstom delays UNC-Wake Forest game

The game has been delayed by a severe thunderstorm. Get updates from Andrew Carter on Twitter:@_andrewcarter.

At 3:20 p.m. it was announced in the press box that the game will start at 4:15 p.m. Players back on field at 4.

UNC at Wake Forest: Live from the press box

WINSTON-SALEM — And welcome to BB&T Field, which will always be Groves Stadium to me. We’re a little less than two hours from North Carolina’s game here today against Wake Forest. And of course, it is the ACC opener for both teams.
As I look out over my laptop and out of the press box, I see puffy gray clouds and a pale blue sky. Rain and thunderstorms could be a possibility today, folks. Brace yourself for the possibility of the two most dreaded words for any college football beat hack: lightning delay.
Let’s hope not.
In the meantime, a couple pregame thoughts here from Winston-Salem:
--Giovani Bernard. Will he play or won’t he? Increasing speculation surrounding Bernard suggests that the injury that forced him out of the game against Elon might be more serious than both he and coach Larry Fedora have indicated. That wouldn’t be surprising, given Fedora’s policy of not disclosing much – or anything, really – about injuries. I asked Tar Heels football spokesman Kevin Best about Bernard’s status and he replied with, “He’s here.” But will he play? And if he does, will he be limited? We’ll soon find out.
--Obviously, the Demon Deacons should represent a more difficult test for the Heels, who weren’t tested during their 62-0 victory against the Phoenix last week. But how much more difficult? Wake’s offense struggled last week against Liberty, an FCS team that led the Deacs in the second half. Wake’s offensive line is a work in progress, and the Tar Heels should have an advantage there. But the Deacs are sound defensively, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Heels’ spread offense responds to their first challenge of the season.
So there you have it.
As I wrote yesterday, I think UNC prevails today. I said 30-23, but wouldn’t be surprised if it were more lopsided. We shall see ...

--Andrew Carter

Thursday, September 6, 2012

UNC releases first injury report of season - RB Gio Bernard not listed

CHAPEL HILL — Given it's playing a conference opponent on Saturday, North Carolina earlier today released its first injury report of the season. And, as you might expect, it was not all that revealing.

The Tar Heels listed five players who will be out for the game against Wake Forest on Saturday:

Connor Gonet, FB
T.J. Leifheit, OL
Darius Lipford, LB
Miller Snyder, PK
T.J. Thorpe, WR

No surprises there. UNC released no one as “probable,” “questionable” or “doubtful.”

Keep in mind that the ACC’s policy on providing injury reports is nothing more than a suggestion. The league has suggested guidelines about how member schools should release injury reports for conference games, but there is no hard rule about any of it.

In fact, at the top of the ACC’s injury report guidelines is this phrase, according to UNC football team spokesman Kevin Best: “This is not an ACC rule subject to enforcement.”

Which is why it’s not surprising to see that UNC’s injury report doesn’t include any probables, questionables or doubtfuls. If it did, perhaps running back Giovani Bernard, who suffered an apparent minor knee injury last week against Elon, might have been listed.

UNC coach Larry Fedora has gone on the record as saying that he won’t discuss injuries, unless a player suffers a season-ending one. Barring that, he won’t provide updates on injured players. Which, of course, his right.

But my question: Why have these injury reports at all? If it’s not an ACC rule, per se, then why even have the soft guideline about releasing them? A question for the conference office …

- Andrew Carter

Saturday, September 1, 2012

UNC 62, Elon 0: Reviewing the first win of the Larry Fedora era

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina cruised to a 62-0 victory in coach Larry Fedora’s first game. Here’s a breakdown of the Tar Heels’ victory.

Three things to take away from UNC 62, Elon 0:

1. The Heels get it. They get it on offense. They get it on defense. At least the base concepts of both, that is. UNC kept it pretty simple on Saturday but the results were extremely impressive, nonetheless. The sloppiness that we’ve seen out of some teams early in the college football season wasn’t evident at Kenan Stadium on Saturday – at least not when it came to what UNC did. The Heels committed just three penalties and looked like they knew what they were doing.

2. The offense is fast, indeed. UNC ran 74 plays on Saturday – 12 more than it averaged last season – and coordinator Blake Anderson still described the tempo as slow. The Heels were on pace to run more than 80 plays before Fedora called off the dogs late in the third quarter. Yes, it was against Elon, an overmatched FCS opponent. But still.

3. UNC might have been better defensively than offensively. And that’s saying something, given how sharp the Heels were on offense. But the UNC defense registered its first shutout since 1999 and Elon got into UNC territory just twice. Phoenix receiver Aaron Mellette, an FCS All-American, had just two catches for 9 yards. He averaged 149 receiving yards per game last season.


UNC led 17-0 early in the second quarter and already was well on its way. That’s when Giovani Bernard returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown. It put the Heels ahead 24-0 and the rout was on.


1. Bernard. The sophomore running back finished with 203 yards rushing and scored in three ways – running, receiving and on the punt return. He left before halftime with an injury and didn’t return but Fedora didn’t sound concerned about his status going forward.

2. Bryn Renner. The UNC quarterback completed 14 of his 21 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns. He showed a command of the offense and limited his mistakes, outside of a first-half interception.

3. Sylvester Williams. The senior defensive tackle finished with two sacks and tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage that led to a key turnover after Elon had driven to the UNC 15-yard line.


UNC’s secondary struggled at times a season ago against prolific passing offenses and gifted receivers, and Mellette gave Elon its best chance to be competitive. The Heels, though, completely owned the matchup and never allowed Mellette any room to operate. Mellette, a senior who was named to every preseason FCS All-American team there is, finished with two catches for 9 yards – his least productive game since his freshman year.


--UNC set an ACC record with 260 punt return yards. The previous ACC record was 227 yards, set by Clemson in 1987. UNC’s  previous record of 225 punt return yards had stood since 1937.

--The 62 points were the most points, by far, that UNC has ever scored in the first game under a new coach.

--The 62 points were also the 11th-highest point total in school history, and three short of tying the school record.


UNC plays at Wake Forest next week in a game that starts at 3 p.m. It will be the Heels’ first game at Wake since 2007.

UNC leads Elon 41-0 at halftime

CHAPEL HILL — During the days leading into his first game as North Carolina’s head coach, Larry Fedora expressed doubt. He said he didn’t know what to expect out of the Tar Heels in their season opener against Elon.

UNC during the first half here on Saturday at Kenan Stadium might have exceeded even Fedora’s most optimistic hopes. The Tar Heels have scored on seven of their nine possessions and hold a 41-0 halftime lead against the Phoenix, a lower-division FCS team from the Southern Conference.

After UNC hired Fedora last December, he promised an up-tempo, exciting style of play. The Heels delivered in the first half. UNC gained 300 yards on their first 30 plays, and sophomore running back Giovani Bernard scored the Heels’ first three touchdowns – one on a run, one on a pass reception and one on a 70-yard punt return.

Bernard’s first touchdown came on a 59-yard run down the left sideline. He received a path-clearing block from Sean Tapley, and then Bernard tight-roped the sideline, stayed in bounds and outran the Elon defense.

That was a common sight throughout the first half: the Heels simply outrunning the overmatched Phoenix.

Bryn Renner completed 12 of his 19 attempts during the first half for 184 yards and two touchdowns. His 35-yard touchdown pass to Jheranie Boyd gave UNC a 31-0 lead with 9:48 left to play in the first half.

The Heels’ only mistake of the half came when Renner threw an interception with about seven minutes to play in the half. Elon took over on its own 32-yard line, but the Phoenix couldn’t capitalize in the turnover.

UNC also debuted its 4-2-5 defense, which held Elon to 92 yards on 36 plays – an average of less than 3 yards per play. The Phoenix made it as far as the Heels’ 20-yard line, but Sylvester Williams tipped Thomas Wilson’s pass, which Jabari Price intercepted off the deflection.

Bernard, meanwhile, finished the half with 203 all-purpose yards, including 93 rushing yards on 9 carries. He left the game late in the first half with an undisclosed injury and his status was unknown.
Overall, UNC finished the half with 336 yards on 43 plays – an average of nearly 8 yards per play.

--Andrew Carter