Heels zero in on Wolfpack
By Eddy Landreth
As the UNC football team ran to the locker room following a 49-24 victory against Wake Forest last Saturday, someone associated with the team yelled the question of the season.
“Can we beat [friggin’] State?”
He actually yelled it quite loudly and several times – with emphasis.
It’s a question interim coach Everett Withers is anxious to get answered.
“Right after that ball game on Saturday, we started getting ready for this one,” Withers said. “It’s important for us. I grew up a Carolina fan. I’m a Carolina guy. I never once thought about N.C. State.”
Withers said this is the kind of game that makes college football so special.
“College football needs rivalries,” Withers said. “I think it’s important to have rivalries in your state.
Senior defensive tackle Tydreke Powell said the players know the score, and right now it’s Wolfpack 4, UNC 0.
“There is no doubt everybody gets it,” Powell said. “Carolina hasn’t won in four years. It’s going to be a great battle.”
UNC could use a repeat of quarterback Bryn Renner’s performance against the Deacons. He had his best day as a Tar Heel, completing 21 of 28 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He did not throw an interception.
He read his progressions well and took advantage of the short routes that were open, utilizing the athletic skills of his backs and wide receivers.
“I believe it’s just a matter of Bryn getting to those [shorter] routes,” Withers said. “Those routes have been there all year long. It’s the maturation process of a young quarterback: You don’t have to throw it 80 yards down the field.”
Hitting those shorter routes is also an efficient way to avoid throwing interceptions. Renner has now thrown 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. With his uncanny accuracy, he is capable of improving that ratio by season’s end.
“The quarterback needs to be the point guard out there and get the ball in their hands,” Renner said. “I try to do that.”
Maybe what helped Renner more than anything, though, was the continued success of redshirt freshman running back Giovani Bernard, who gained 154 yards on 27 carries against Wake Forest.
Bernard took some vicious hits, including a helmet-to-helmet blow that left him on the ground for a few moments.
“He got drilled a lot of times,” Withers said. “Gio is a special, special player. He’s competitor. He’s quiet. He just does his job. We never ask these guys to be superman, but Gio has a little something about him.”
Bernard rushed for two touchdowns and scored one on a reception. He has now rushed for 965 yards this season on 168 carries. His 11 rushing touchdowns are the most by a Tar Heel since Leon Johnson scored 12 in 1995.
His reception for a score gives him 12 TDs overall, tops in the ACC.
“He can do it all,” Renner said. “He caught the ball out of the backfield. He made great runs. He made one at the end of the game, a 54-yard run that was amazing.”
Now it’s time for the moment of truth – at N.C. State.
And the question remains the same: Can the Tar Heels beat the Wolfpack?
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