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November 5, 2011

Milestone means nothing to Bernard without win

North Carolina redshirt freshman running back Giovani Bernard was not in the mood to talk about surpassing the 1,000-yard plateau Saturday afternoon following UNC's 13-0 shutout loss at N.C. State.

Bernard's 47 rushing yards against the Wolfpack on Saturday made him the first UNC running back since Jonathan Linton in 1997 to pass the thousand-yard barrier, helping re-establish a long line of Tar Heel backs to reach the prestigious mark, starting with Don McCauley way back in 1969.

But none of that concerned Bernard in the least after Saturday's setback to the Wolfpack.

"I couldn't care less about it. To me, it's really not finished. It's a matter of being able to win every game. We've got to come out and hopefully get a win under our belt two weeks from now," Bernard said. "1,000 yards doesn't really matter."

Carolina's big gun in the backfield was fired 18 times on Saturday against the Wolfpack, but the home team decked out in red largely held Bernard in check.

Much of that was due to an impressive defensive outing by NCSU---one of that program's strongest defensive outings in years in fact.

While it was arguably the worst performance by a North Carolina offense in five years, Bernard gave the Wolfpack their due.

"Nah (I didn't think we'd get shut out). I feel like we have so many playmakers in our offense that no team in the country should really shut us down. But you know, they (NCSU) did their job, and they just held us down today," he said.

But the fact that the Tar Heels just didn't seem ready to play on the offensive side of the ball---and the fact that the team failed to score against its arch-rivals from Raleigh for the first time since 1960---leads to a bigger question.

If UNC's offense can't get up to play the hated Wolfpack---especially after everything that was said this week between the head coaches---exactly what in the hell would it take to get this unit fired up and focused to play?

Speaking to that topic, Bernard got a few things off his chest after the game.

Notably, Bernard said that he felt a lot of Tar Heel players just didn't have their head where it needed to be in the hours leading up to Saturday's ball game in Raleigh.

"Some guys, or some teammates---whatever it may be---just didn't come into the game focused," Bernard said. "It's just a matter of just not feeling right. We just didn't feel right---I didn't feel right going into the game. I thought guys were just joking around, not taking this game seriously."

"I knew guys were just really not focused in, and I think after the first drive, even the small things that really shut the offense down, I think it's a matter that (not being focused) is what happened. And we've got to continue working on it," he continued.

The play that perhaps best personified UNC's fruitless offensive effort against NCSU was the botched halfback pass that Bernard tried late in the first quarter in an attempt to get the Tar Heels going.

Bernard wound up getting sacked on the play, and another early scoring opportunity was lost for the Tar Heels.

Carolina fans had a field day in the hours immediately following the game second-guessing just about every move offensive coordinator John Shoop made on Saturday---and especially the halfback pass---but Bernard showed respect for his coach and his decision to call the strange play.

"It's Coach Shoop's job, and we (the players) can't question his job. He's doing his thing out there, and it's just a matter of us converting on it," Bernard said. "It was just a matter of we worked on it (the halfback pass). We've done it a lot of times in practice. It was just a matter of we were down, and we needed something---a big play."

"It could have worked, but they (State) just brought a lot of pressure from the side, and it was tough to get the ball out. And you didn't want to throw an interception---you didn't want to turn the ball over. Just take the sack and go for the next play."

After finding so much success running downhill with Bernard for much of this season, UNC seemed to get away from that for large stretches on Saturday.

That was partly due to the solid scheming by the NCSU defense clogging up the rushing lanes, and it was partly due to Shoop trying to mix things up.

Either way you look at it, it didn't work.

"I think it was just a matter that we got down, and you know, when an offense gets down its a matter of, 'We've got to do something. We've got to do something else.' There were a couple of times where they (NCSU) stopped us, and we kind of switched (away from the run) to the pass. And things like that happen," Bernard said.

Bernard did not lose any fumbles on Saturday, but Carolina's three interceptions limited the number of touches he received.

"We've had turnovers in the past, and that's something that's plagued our offense. I think it's just a matter of working on trying to fix it," he said.

UNC's defense for the most part shut down the Wolfpack save one early touchdown, but NCSU spent the game in fantastic field position all day.

The Tar Heels' punting woes, combined with successful offensive execution at times by State, allowed them to keep Carolina pinned back in its own territory much of the afternoon.

But that's not a valid excuse for Bernard, who was disappointed to get the sense that many of the Tar Heel players felt the game was already over in the fourth quarter when there was still time to make a desperation rally.

"I think a lot of guys got their heads down once they saw the time winding down, but the game is not over until the clock says 'zero,' and I think guys took that the wrong way and got down really quick," he said.

"Speaking for myself, during the entire game I felt there at any point there could be a play that could turn the game around, and I think it's a matter of everybody staying in it."

Bernard's milestone on Saturday won't soon be forgotten by the Tar Heel faithful, especially considering how long its been since UNC had a running back of Bernard's caliber.

Simply stated, Bernard has a chance in the coming seasons to etch his name among the all-time greats to ever play in the North Carolina offensive backfield.

But for now, Bernard just doesn't want to talk about that.

He wants to talk about how he's going to help the Tar Heels get better during the bye week heading into another major challenge November 17 in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech.

"We've got to let this (the NCSU loss) go," he said. "Four years, and now it's five years (losing to State), and it's just a matter of letting it go and moving on to the next game."

"I think it's now just a matter of getting focused for Virginia Tech."





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