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A career day by Gio Bernard, stout run defense, and special teams play help Carolina out-Beamer the Hokies.
UNC started off what would be a banner day for football in the Triangle area with a 48-34 win over a suddenly strugg-a-ling Virginia Tech team as the Heels passed their first real test of the Larry Fedora era.
After a brutal start reminiscent of the foibles of the Louisville game (maybe the white jerseys made the Heels think they were on the road?), Carolina found their legs after a huge Sean Tapley kickoff return and Gio Bernard's 62-yard touchdown run on 4th and 1 to begin the 2nd quarter changed the complexion of the game. From that point on the Tar Heels were pretty much in control of the game.
UNC pounded the ball at VT on the ground, with Gio Bernard rushing for a career-high 262 yards, and did that mainly in 3 quarters as Bernard had -3 yards on 3 carries in the first quarter. Moreover, Carolina controlled the defensive front on the ground and dared Hokie QB Logan Thomas to beat them through the air, which he was ultimately not able to do with a depleted receiving corps. Carolina ground out 533 yards of offense against a Bud Foster defense, which is no small feat. Moreover, UNC relied on special teams play, a Virginia Tech specialty, to help put the nails in the Hokies' coffin.
With these things in mind, here is the Virginia Tech version of the GBU Report:
Giovani Bernard: That's Mr. Bernard to you. Bernard's 262 yards represent the 5th-highest total in school history. He rushed only 23 times, for an eye-popping 11.4 yards per carry. When you factor in his rushing and return yards, Bernard had 291 all-purpose yards. And to think, coming out of high school, Bernard didn't want to play in a spread offense because he thought he wouldn't get enough carries.
Sean Tapley: Tapley is quickly gaining a reputation as a big-play guy. His kickoff return for a touchdown steadied the Heels after a bumbling start and he scored another receiving touchdown.
Rushing Defense: Carolina held the Hokies to 40 yards rushing on 25 attempts, or 1.6 yards per carry. Simply stout.
Special Teams: How impressive was Tapley's kickoff return for a touchdown? It was the first allowed by the Hokies in 19 years. And UNC's kicking and punting games are refreshingly solid, the VT kickoff return for a TD notwithstanding.
Red Zone Offense: After weeks of struggling in this area, UNC was 4 for 4 in the red zone, scoring touchdowns all four times.
Pass Defense: As great as Carolina's run defense was, the Heels' pass defense remains porous. VT's Thomas threw for 354 yards and his two touchdown passes were both over 45 yards. If the Hokies could have caught some easy balls their receivers dropped. it could have been worse. Plus, Thomas was only sacked once and frequently had plenty of time to throw the ball. Carolina's next three games are against pass-first teams, so UNC needs to get a handle on this.
Attendance: The attendance for one of the biggest games on the home schedule was generously announced at 54,000 but there was plenty of aluminum showing on a picture-perfect day for football. Maybe this game will convince fans the Heels are for real, although it will be three weeks before Carolina again plays in Kenan.
3rd Down Defense: While Carolina held VT to 44% on 3rd downs, it was still significantly better than their season average and 5 of the 7 third downs the Hokies converted were greater than 9 yards. Doesn't do a lot of good to get teams into 3rd and long if they are going to convert.
Penalties: Carolina had 15 penalties for 126 yards, one penalty shy of a school record. UNC had three penalties in four plays on its first possession, and four in the first 8 plays overall. Five of the penalties were false starts, and Eric Ebron and Erik Highsmith each had 20 yards in penalties themselves.
So what do we read into a two-touchdown victory over the ACC Coastal Division's standard-bearer? At this point, cautious optimism. VT is clearly stumbling to a degree they have not in a number of years, and as good as the Heels looked in spots yesterday, they don't even have the most impressive win in the Triangle on Saturday. The Hokies are not playing good football right now and UNC let them hold it, which is exactly what you hope the Heels would do. Carolina seems to be getting better every week and getting a firmer grasp on the new system, which is exactly what you would hope for at the halfway point of the season. Let's see if Carolina can put forth this kind of effort two weeks in a row against divisional competition.