Carolina put 62 points on the board and shut out Elon in the first game of the Larry Fedora era. The Tar Heels executed new offensive and defensive schemes and played a clean game overall, committing just two turnovers and three penalties. The Phoenix were never able to find a flow offensively, as Carolina held them to just 42 rushing yards and 6 of 19 on third down conversions.
The Tar Heels were eager to show off what they'd been working on since Fedora and his staff arrived. Despite the rout, they didn't show everything. In this, the first game, against an FCS opponent, the Tar Heels wanted to stay basic.
"Really, the whole goal coming in was to be pretty simple, just to allow us to have a chance to execute," offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. The staff recognized that they would have a physical advantage in some matchups, so there wasn't quite the need to try to out-scheme the Phoenix. "We just wanted to give ourselves a chance to play fast, so we didn't get too crazy with it, and the guys executed for the most part fairly well."
Quarterback Bryn Renner said the playbook for Saturday's game was simpler even than the one used in spring practice. "We wanted to make sure we could do the basic stuff well, and I think we did that today," he said. "I think we made a lot of progress, and we had a good look at the young guys, and we saw that they could play and contribute."
Along with playing smart and physical, playing fast is one of the three tenets of Fedoraball, along with playing smart and physical. Carolina's new no-huddle offense came as a change of pace to the fans in Kenan Stadium, who are used to a leisurely pace. No more. Five of the Tar Heels' seven touchdown-scoring drives took less than two minutes off the clock. Bernard's punt return lasted ten seconds. In fact, Elon won the time-of-possession battle by more than eight minutes, in a game they lost 62 to 0.
In spite of all that, Fedora wants the tempo pushed even faster. Renner, who threw for 236 yards on 14-21 passing, three touchdowns and an interception, said at times he got caught watching his fellow playmakers. "I think you get so used to watching your players just make plays, that for me I need to get into a habit of running with the ball," he said. "I think once we get in game situations, I need to do a better job with that."
Renner said that in the second quarter, Fedora implored him to pick up the tempo. "As far as getting that tempo going, it starts with me," he said. "I think I did a poor job today. I think Coach Anderson and Coach Fedora would agree, so definitely it starts with me getting to the ball and making calls."
It's understandable that in his first game in his first season with a new offense, with no huddle and calls coming in from the sideline, Renner might run slower than is optimal. Perhaps it's a necessary step in getting the process down. "I think he was being really cautious in how he communicated, and it slowed things down," Anderson said. "We talked about it a lot between series, tried to pick it up and to be honest with you the game got to a position where tempo wasn't as big a concern. We've got a lot of work left to do. It was a start that I think we can get better from."
Back in December, Fedora won over Tar Heel fans with his energy and enthusiasm. Since then, his team and coaching staff has pushed the pace from practice to the game field. So, it's interesting that Fedora himself would be the one to tap the brakes in the second half. "With about three minutes left in the third quarter I told them to shut it down," he said of his offense. "Blake gets mad at me because I tell him to shut it down and he really gets mad on the phones, and he stays mad the rest of the game, and he's probably mad right now. We wanted to move on and get out of the game and it was time to move on."
Carolina's 62 points all came in the first three quarters, so after that, it was time to run the clock, run the ball and stay healthy. "When you're running an offense, you want to see them excel," Fedora said. "[Blake] he wants to get 12 (backup quarterback Marquise Williams) as many good reps in a game as possible. Just the game had gotten out of hand at a certain point and didn't want to do that."
"I was a little frustrated," Anderson said. "Of course, I've been with him (Fedora) for four years. I knew it was coming. I just always want to kind of continue to do what we do and get the other guys some good reps at it. I understand his thought. We've got to get the clock running and get out of the game and not get anybody hurt, and at the same time, we're just trying to be classy; don't want to run the score up in any way, so it's a fine line."
When, in recent memory, have you known a Carolina team to 'shut it down' in the third quarter? Of a win? As Anderson said, it is a fine line. You want to win, but you don't want to embarrass anyone. You start to feel bad for the overmatched Phoenix, playing in the heat and unable to catch their breaths. It is certainly a fine line, but it's nice to be walking on this side of it.