From day one, Larry Fedora promised that his North Carolina team would play smart, fast, and physical football. On Saturday, the Tar Heels proved that there just might be something to that 'fast' thing. Carolina scored on the fourth play from scrimmage and never looked back, setting school records in both points scored and margin of victory in a 66-0 rout of Idaho.
"Everybody said we were a second-half team and couldn't start fast," Fedora said after the game. "So we spent a lot of time talking about starting fast, making things happen from the beginning." His team did just that, putting up four touchdowns and blocking two punts in the first quarter alone.
In the months between Fedora's hiring and the start of the 2012 season, much of the attention had been on incumbent starting quarterback Bryn Renner. How would Renner handle the transition from the pro-style offense to the no-huddle spread, under the third head coach and second offensive coordinator of his college career?
There have certainly been some speed bumps along the way. Carolina beat Elon 62-0 in the season opener, but the tempo wasn't quite where Fedora wanted it. Saturday, Renner and the Tar Heel offense showed what they can do when running on all cylinders. "I think it was drastically different," Renner said of the pace of the offense. "We were just pushing the tempo more, and it kind of got them on their heels a little bit," he said. Certainly Idaho found themselves completely outmatched from top to bottom, but the Tar Heels knew not to take them lightly. "They scored 14 points in the first half against LSU," Renner said of the Vandals, "so we knew they were going to come in and play hard, and we luckily came out and played pretty well."
Pretty well indeed. The Tar Heels had a 45-point halftime lead thanks to six touchdowns from five different players. Giovani Bernard had but two rushes in the first half, but they went for 70 yards and two touchdowns. That kind of offensive performance helps set the table for the Tar Heel defense, who don't mind the view from the sideline. "It's exciting watching our offense go," defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said. "When the offense goes out there, I just sit back and look up at the Jumbotron like I'm at home on the couch watching another football game." Williams said the players on his side of the ball have trouble with Bernard in practice, so he enjoys the Saturday matinee. "You've just got to sit back and relax and watch the show yourself," he said. "We're like fans at that point. We've just got to watch the show maybe ask for an autograph or something."
The efficient game plan employed by the Tar Heel offense on Saturday resulted in 79 plays being run for 575 yards, and that's with the engine pretty much shut down midway through the third quarter. In a year in which Carolina won't be eligible for the postseason, it's instructive to watch the team mature from week to week. Renner and the offense have become much more comfortable working without a huddle and looking toward tight ends coach Walt Bell for the play call. The process is speeding up in real time, but being understood as if it were in slow motion. Whereas not long ago, the offense would rush to the line, then have a several-second delay as calls came in and adjustments were made, things seemed much more streamlined on Saturday. "As far as transitioning to the next play, that's what we're getting better at," Renner said. "Everybody's getting the right signal, we're not changing personnel as much, and everybody can kind of get in the flow," he said. "It's game week five, and we should be on that track."
Renner said a good week of practice - with an intentional focus on starting strong - led to the performance against Idaho. Despite some key personnel missing Saturday's game - left tackle James Hurst, wide receivers Jheranie Boyd, T.J. Thorpe and Reggie Wilkins, the offense performed incredibly efficiently. Kiaro Holts protected Renner's blind side and helped keep Renner off the ground, and freshman Quinshad Davis had four catches for 89 yards and two scores. "I think that's huge for team morale, and everybody feeling they have a chance to score on every play," Renner said.
Virginia Tech, losers of two of their last three, comes calling next weekend, eager to get off the mat. The Tar Heels will look to start fast once again. A good week of practice led to a fast pace and a good result on game day this week against Idaho. Next Saturday, it's a whole new ballgame.