UNC Beat: Gio’s Okay, and Other Thoughts

I’m not able to read too much into a 62-0 shellacking like the one North Carolina put on Elon. However, the game, along with a couple of other events, gave us plenty to talk about this week before the Tar Heels open Atlantic Coast Conference play against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

GIOVANI IS OKAY, PART ONE: When North Carolina hired Larry Fedora, one of the dominant questions was “What does this mean for Giovani Bernard?”  The logic went as such: Spread offenses are passing offenses, which leaves a 1,000-yard rusher out in the cold.  After all, Bernard chose North Carolina over Notre Dame largely because of Butch Davis’ pro offense against Brian Kelly’s spread attack.  How often would Gio get the ball, and what could he do with it, with fewer blockers?

Not all spread offenses are built alike, however, and many aren’t given nearly enough credit in the rushing department. After all, the leading rushers in FBS last season were not the “boring” Wisconsin Badgers or a triple-option team such as Georgia Tech, but the Oregon Ducks.  Fedora’s Southern Miss squad averaged more than 200 yards per game rushing in 2011.  If anything, spreading the field out opens holes for runners like Bernard.

Bernard, hopefully, shushed any such concerns with his performance Saturday.  First, Bernard rushed for a 59-yard touchdown, showcasing his speed in getting to the sideline and outrunning the Elon defense to the end zone.  Then, he caught a six-yard touchdown pass, dragging two Phoenix defenders along with him.

Bernard then debuted as a punt returner. As it turns out, he’s pretty good at that, too, returning a punt 70 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.  When the dust had settled, Bernard had three touchdowns, 93 yards rushing on just nine carries, and 100 yards returning punts.

GIOVANI IS OKAY, PART TWO: Mercifully for the Phoenix, Bernard played no part in the second half of the 62-0 thrashing.  He went to the locker room, with the word coming back that he was suffering from discomfort in his left knee.  Bernard had been expected to contribute as a true freshman in 2010 before tearing his right ACL, so this was anything but good news for Tar Heel fans. How significant was the injury? Would UNC be entering conference play against Wake Forest without its most dynamic player?

The early reports out of Chapel Hill are beyond optimistic.  Fedora stated that Bernard could have played in the second half, but was not needed as the game was well out of reach.  Bernard said Monday at North Carolina’s weekly press conference that he feels “great” and was simply out “as a precautionary thing.” When asked if Bernard should expect a lighter workload against the Demon Deacons, Fedora pointed out that Gio only had nine carries against Elon.  “We’ll be smart, but if you touch the ball nine times and do what you did, just think if you get it 18. We won’t ride him like a mule or anything, but we’ll make sure he gets the touches he deserves.”

UNC IS OKAY?: In a statement released Friday, the University of North Carolina said that it had provided updates to the NCAA regarding the academic issues discovered in an internal investigation released this summer and that the NCAA, “reaffirmed to University officials that no NCAA rules appeared to have been broken.”  This news was shared throughout the nation with predictable calm and rationale.

The outrage amongst national media types was particularly overwhelming, and understandable to a certain extent …. After all, which NCAA rules did Penn State break before receiving its considerable sanctions this summer?  However, a closer inspection of the situation shows the University and its athletic programs may not be out of the woods just yet.

For one, work-related cell phone records from Butch Davis’s infamous “216” phone will be made public under state public record law.  While we won’t know for certain what is in those records until, well, they are made public, it is hard to imagine anything that has been protected so fervently for the length of the scandal doesn’t have at least a couple of nuggets that could potentially haunt UNC.

Secondly, there is an independent investigation of the scandal underway, led by former Governor Jim Martin. As we learned from Penn State, the NCAA is more than willing to operate on the findings of an independent investigation.

We could dissect and analyze the NCAA’s operating procedure, but we would ultimately determine that the NCAA will do whatever the NCAA wants to do.  While many of the anti-UNC and anti-NCAA crowd are pointing loudly to that now, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see a reversal from the folks at Indianapolis as more information continues to pour from Chapel Hill.

WAKE FOREST IS NOT OKAY: From one fun-sucker to another, let’s talk about Wake Forest football!  While North Carolina was rolling Elon, Wake Forest struggled mightily against Liberty before winning 20-17.  Now, those two teams will collide in the ACC opener for both at Winston-Salem.

Wake Forest struggled to move the ball against the Flames, as the momentum-shifting touchdown for the Deacons actually came on an interception return by A.J. Marshall.  It is difficult to read too much into either outcome, but it is safe to conclude that the two teams will enter Saturday’s game with much different mindsets.

For the Tar Heels, it will be about picking up where the second quarter left off.  As well-oiled as it may have looked against Elon, let’s not forget that this is merely Week Two of the Fedora system, and each new week will present new challenges.  Stumbling at BB&T Field would be quite an obstacle before facing a often-challenging Louisville team in Kentucky and hosting in-state rival East Carolina.

As simplistic and cliché as it sounds, Wake Forest will be looking to play better.  Certainly, Deacon fans won’t be happy with a loss, but they would be able to at least take some solace in it if they aren’t blown out like Elon. Narrowly defeating Liberty and getting destroyed by North Carolina? That would set up a difficult recovery program for the team’s 2012 season.  Have a respectable showing against the Tar Heels, maybe even a win (God forbid), and the Deacons can pretend last Saturday never happened.


First Star – Giovani Bernard: Duh.

Second Star – Woody Durham: The long-time voice of North Carolina football and basketball has co-authored “Woody Durham: A Tar Heel Voice” and signed copies of the book on campus before Saturday’s game. I’m sure he has shared some great stories there.

Third Star – This Guy:  It’s 972-0, Kenan Stadium’s emptying process is well underway, and even the most excitable of students have either left or assumed a seated position, weary from the late-summer heat baking those who attended Saturday’s game. Not this gentlemen in front of me, though. No, sir. He stood from beginning to end. It was one part admirable, one part annoying, being the guy most obstructed by his support, but we’re going to use this space to credit this anonymous individual for being loud and proud for the entirety of the game.  Kudos to you, sir.

Zach Evans is brilliantZach Evans is a student at the University of North Carolina and a lifelong fan of the Tar Heels and follower of the ACC. Outside of the ACC, Zach is also a fan of the Atlanta Braves, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Carolina Panthers, and bad puns. He includes nailing the Final Four in his 2009 NCAA Tournament group and batting .000 during the 2011 intramural softball season among his crowning achievements. For more commentary, follow Zach on Twitter at @ztevans.

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