Tuesday, October 2, 2012

UNC football: What we learned during first month of the 2012 season

CHAPEL HILL — Difficult as it is to believe, North Carolina will reach the midway point of the season on Saturday when it hosts Virginia Tech at Kenan Stadium. Time moves fast, indeed – maybe faster due to Larry Fedora’s fast-paced spread offense.

Now that we’re out of September, here some things the first month of the season taught us about the Tar Heels:

--Bryn Renner can thrive in the spread offense.
Remember all those questions during the preseason about whether Renner could fit into Fedora’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense? Those questions seem like a distant memory now. Renner hasn’t been perfect, and he’d be the first to list areas where he needs to improve, but through five games he’s averaging 284.4 passing yards – which ranks 21st nationally – and has thrown 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. Renner’s efficiency rating of 160.5 ranks 20th nationally and third in the ACC behind Florida State’s EJ Manuel and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.

--The defense is pretty good.
Even with that disastrous first-half at Louisville, North Carolina ranks among the top 20 nationally in several defensive categories: yards per play, yards per game, rushing defense, total defense. Sylvester Williams has been dominant up front, and Kevin Reddick as good as advertised at linebacker in the Heels’ new 4-2-5 scheme. The good news for UNC is that the defense appears to have progressed significantly in recent weeks. The bad news? The schedule only becomes more difficult – and more significant challenges lay ahead.

--Quinshad Davis has star potential.
Through his first five collegiate games, Davis ranks fourth on the team in receiving yards (with 210) and fourth in receptions (15). Not a bad debut for Davis, who missed the start of preseason practice while tending to a medical condition. Wide receiver was a major question mark for the Heels entering the season, and it will remain so because of lack of depth. Davis has been a bright spot, though. His yardage has increased in each of the past three games, and he caught his first two touchdown passes of his career on Saturday.

--Recruiting needs are starting to become clearer.
If asked, Fedora would probably say he needs to recruit better players at every position. And that’s true, to an extent. But some recruiting needs are more pressing than others. Recruiting more talent and speed at receiver will remain a priority for Fedora and his staff. Fedora also said on Monday that ideally he’d like to have four running backs instead of three. He’d probably like another fast back, similar to Giovani Bernard or Romar Morris. UNC also lacks the prototypical players for its bandit and ram positions on defense, and recruiting them will be a priority.

--The Tar Heels are still seeking an identity.
Fedora said on Monday that UNC is becoming more consistent, and the Heels have played extremely well in their past 10 quarters. Still, this is a team that still finding its way amid all the new – new offensive system, new defensive philosophy, new approach to special teams. One trait that Fedora has to like is that this team has displayed some character early in the season. It responded, in particular, from that awful first half at Louisville. And then responded from consecutive defeats with strong games the past two weeks. But more difficult challenges await.

- Andrew Carter