Ladies and gentlemen, Gio Bernard. *drops mic, walks off stage*
I don't know how much a 5 year-old gorilla weighs, but it is good to have that one off UNC's back.
In an absolutely epic ending to a very entertaining football game, Giovani Bernard exorcised five years' worth of demons from Tar Heel fans everywhere with his 74-yard punt return for a touchdown that capped a furious 4th quarter comeback and finally produced a UNC win over NC State.
It is easy to point to the punt return due to its singular, dramatic impact on the game, but it was a combination of factors that allowed UNC to jump out to a big lead, gag up the lead, and then score 18 unanswered points to win the game. UNC came out full of adrenaline and it showed early as the Heels punched State in the mouth to the tune of an early 25-7 lead. Then Bernard rolled his ankle and the Wolfpack settled in with Mike Glennon picking apart the Carolina secondary with ease, and State chalked up 28 unanswered points. After Carolina went up 25-7, they then went 11 possessions without points in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, including a turnover in the end zone and a missed field goal, and 7 of those possessions were 3-and-outs (and a 4th was a 4-and-out).
But when the Pack went up 10 points early in the 4th, they stopped doing the things that had garnered them the lead. Carolina sensed the conservatism and dialed up the defensive pressure; meanwhile the offense started moving the ball and put some points back on the board. With the score tied at 35, State seemed content to play for overtime despite 3 timeouts and Glennon's success throwing the ball. UNC countered by using their own timeouts, forcing State to punt, and the rest is history.
Gio Bernard: His numbers are simply amazing. He had 304 all-purpose yards, including 139 rushing and a team-high 95 receiving. Moreover, he amassed 182 of those yards in the 4th quarter alone. He scored three touchdowns on the day and now has 15 on the season in just seven games. ESPN noted that Bernard is the only player in the country with 2 or more rushing TDs, 2 or more receiving TDs, and 2 or more punt return TDs.
Bryn Renner: Renner was 30 of 47 for 358 yards, which were career highs for completions and attempts, and just off a career high for passing yardage. Save for the end zone interception, Renner usually made good decisions and rose to the occasion at crunch time.
Rushing Defense: After being run over and through by Duke, Carolina only gave up 67 yards on the ground to State.
4th Quarter Defense: After Glennon's 55-yard pass to put State up 10 points, the Carolina defense only gave up 20 yards and one first down while recording two sacks.
Tommy Hibbard: The UNC punter averaged 41 yards per kick (despite a shank), but more important put three punts inside the 20 and only had two punts even attempt to be returned, for a total of 1 yard. His biggest contribution was as the extra point holder, as he was 2-2 on 2-point conversions, including a heady decision on a bad snap after the final touchdown.
3rd Downs: Once again, UNC was not very good on both sides of the ball on 3rd down. On offense, Carolina was a paltry 4-16, while on defense the Heels surrendered 8 conversions on 19 chances, and three of those stops were in the 4th quarter when State went conservative. Moreover, six of the 8 conversions came on 3rd and long. Doesn't do Carolina a lot of good to hold on 1st and 2nd downs, then give up long plays on 3rd down.
60 Minutes of Play: Once again, UNC seemed incapable of putting together a complete 4 quarters of football. After the spectacular, adrenaline-filled opening quarter, Carolina essentially sleepwalked through the next 2 quarters. Fortunately they were able to survive. Again.
Red Zone Offense: Though improving, it is still an adventure whenever Carolina ventures into the red zone. The huge Renner interception in the end zone could have proven very costly.
Pass Defense: Although they did force two interceptions, the UNC secondary was torched for 467 yards and 5 touchdowns by Glennon. Even worse, all five TD passes were over 20 yards, and 4 of the 5 were over 30 yards. Coverages were frequently blown and D-backs were out of place the entire game.
Uniforms: I posted on Twitter that the problem with the Gio punt return is that an epic moment in UNC history will be shown over and over again in those hideous uniforms, and some of my tweeps let me hold it for that observation. I wish the enduring image would have been Gio taking it to the house behind a wall of Carolina Blue. Personally, I am a traditionalist and while I was OK with the chrome helmets, I would have preferred the interlocking NC to the oversized Tar Heel. But I'm sorry, the navy uniforms make me think of Butch Davis and I would like to put distance between me and that memory. Oh, and I know "the kids love the uniform combinations", but to that I say, get off my lawn.
And so with the streak in the rear-view mirror, Carolina gets a well-earned bye week to prepare for Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech, and Carolina fans get to hold their heads high at the water cooler on Monday.