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September 3, 2012

Heels, Gio march on

Coach Larry Fedora and running back Giovani Bernard said that Bernard is OK and ready to prepare for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game at Wake Forest.

Bernard sat all of the second half and part of the second quarter for a mysterious injury or potential injury. The problem with addressing such issues with Fedora is he refuses to discuss injuries.

"We're going to load him up," Fedora said, alluding to the nine carries Bernard had from scrimmage. "We're going to be smart, but if you touch the ball nine times and do what you did, just imagine what you did 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."

Bernard said he is well.

"I feel great," Bernard said. "It was just a precautionary kind of thing. I'm ready to go for this week."

The urgency of the questions surrounding Bernard was magnified because of his obvious value. He had an amazing start in the 62-0 victory against Elon in the season-opener at Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

Bernard had scored three touchdowns in three different ways, including a 70-yard score in his debut as a punt returner, by early in the second quarter.

He ran for 93 yards on nine carries from scrimmage, caught a TD pass and returned the punt. In all, he gained 100 yards in punt returns, which included a fair catch on his first attempt.

"It was a little different for me," Bernard said. "The first time, as soon as the guy kicked the ball, I fair caught it. I just wanted to get a catch under my belt.

"Right before the third punt, Coach [Fedora] said, 'You can take this back if you want,' joking around. I said, 'You know what, watch this.'"

Then he did it.

Even his teammates were amazed by what Bernard accomplished.

"It's unbelievable," quarterback Bryn Renner said. "We're roommates now. I woke up after the game [on Sunday] and thought, 'I don't know how he did it.'

"He's so humble he doesn't want to talk about it that much, but I told him, 'You know what you did in a quarter of play?' I wanted to make him talk about it because what he did was unbelievable."

One cannot discuss the accomplishments in Saturday's victory without qualifying them by saying this was Elon, not an ACC opponent. Nonetheless, the manner in which the Tar Heels played, the near flawless execution of new offensive and defensive schemes is worth noting, regardless of the opponent.

The coaches found mistakes to correct when they broke down the film, but Fedora conceded his team gave him a tremendous effort mentally as well as physically. And the mental part was of equal importance, considering this was the first chance to run the new schemes before a crowd in the stands and against an opponent.

"I thought our concentration and focus was really good throughout the entire game," Fedora said.

Catches, interceptions, tackles, big runs, those are the obvious successes. From the coaches' standpoint, there was much more. The only way to build depth is to play more players, and Carolina did that on Saturday.

This aspect particularly benefited the wide receivers. Fourteen different players caught passes, including Renner who received one on a trick play.

"A lot of them got to catch balls," Fedora said. "We're going to be relying on each and every one of them. You really only had two [Jheranine Boyd and Erik Highsmith] who had had any reps.

"The rest of them, it was like they were all babies out there. It was good for them to get as many reps as possible, get hit, catch a ball. The catch Quinshad [Davis] made down there, that is a catch you dream about going into your first game as a freshman. It was good to see him get the opportunity to do that."

The same could be said for the defensive line, which is probably the area on the team in most need of additional contributors.

"It was a lot like the receivers," Fedora said. "You had a lot of guys who did not have much experience. … You got a bunch of guys who got some good reps, and all of those are going to pay off.

"The good thing was nobody got too many reps. I've been in a first game of the season and you're expected to win. Then all of a sudden, it's a lot tighter than you expected.

"The starters are out there for almost the whole game or the whole game," Fedora said. "The next thing you know, you didn't build any depth; you didn't get anything done that you wanted to. Fortunately, we were able to play a lot of guys."

And have them play well.


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