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Five Thoughts On The First Two Weeks

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We don't do snap judgments here at THF, we wait one week then do snap judgments.

1. Aside from a three bad decisions, Bryn Renner looks like the real deal.

Obviously when you put a redshirt sophomore out there in his first two games you often have no idea what you are going to get. Sometimes it is great, sometimes it is a mixed bag and sometimes you get Joe Dailey. In this case Renner has been really good without four INTs keeping me from labeling him the greatest thing since the invention of Diet Mt. Dew. Renner is accurate, appears to be in full command of the offense and has the ability to move around in the pocket in such a way as to buy his receivers an additional 2-3 seconds. It is one thing to avoid the rush, it is another to avoid it while continuing to look downfield and keep yourself in a position to deliver the football. Renner does that and combine that with his passing acumen he is an upgrade over T.J. Yates who was pretty good in his own right. However where Renner falls short of Yates is the decision making in certain situations. All three INTs Renner threw on Saturday came on passes he never should have thrown. Renner was going for broke on one play and put the ball up to be snagged. Near the end of the half he thought he could squeeze between two Rutgers defenders only to have it tipped and picked off. The third came when he was scrambling and instead of simply running out of bounds or throwing the ball that way, Renner tried to force a pass down the sideline and it was intercepted. In all three cases, Renner could have avoided the turnover but tried to make something out of nothing. I admire the sentiment because I think Renner is the kind of QB who can pull off that kind of magic. However he also needs to be the kind of field general who knows when to walk away from a play just to keep the ball or the field position in UNC's favor. That is a matter of maturing which I think Renner will continue to do. It is clear he has the skills now if he can get some experience, he will be quite good.

2. Everyone loves Gio Bernard provided he is running to the outside.

Like everyone else, I love watching Gio Bernard with the football. He is fast, agile and did some downright ridiculous things in scoring two TDs on Saturday that made any number of Scarlet Knight defenders look stupid. The problem is they all came running the ball to the outside and in the case of the 60-yard TD run, when a misdirection was used to isolate that side of the field. Bernard did almost zero positive rushing when he had to run into the line which appears to be more of an offensive line issue than anything else. Yes, this offensive line which looks outstanding on paper is still not doing enough to open the holes for the rushing attack. Of course when Ryan Houston is in there, he tends to make his own holes but even that is not working so well. Bernard has the speed and agility to do a lot of good things but not if there is not at least one or two good holes to hit at the start of the play. At some point this offensive line needs to live up to its billing and dominate the line of scrimmage. They don't seem to have a problem doing so when pass blocking but the run blocking is a different story. As good as Bernard has to potential to be, it would be a shame to see him not get the chances he needs to really impact the game with his running ability.

3. Wither Ryan Houston

During the second half of Saturday's game, Houston was notably absent prompting more than a few "is Houston injured" tweets and comments to pop up. Houston was not injured, Everett Withers simply opted to go with Bernard more and rightfully so for the reasons outlined above. Houston did eventually see a few carries late in the game including a 33-yard run that effectively sealed the game. The question now being asked is whether Houston will simply become a fulltime backup? The depth chart for this week is already out with Bernard and Houston getting the always significant "OR" treatment meaning Withers is going to decide later in the week which one actually starts. If I had to guess right now, I am thinking it will be Bernard but who really knows. The ideal is to use both because they employ different running styles much the same way Houston was used in tandem with Shaun Draughn back in 2009. That is unless there is a clear cut difference between one player over the other which is where we might be heading. However because of the aforementioned issues running inside the tackles, Bernard might have issues really separating himself especially if Houston does it better based on his size.  At this point UNC has 316 yards rushing in two games for a 4.9 yards per attempt average with Bernard accounting for half that total on 5.8 ypa. If that trend continues, I expect we will see more of Bernard and less of Houston.

4. The defense is totally awesome and really sucks all at the same time.

In short, the front seven has NFL scouts rearranging weekend plans to see what UNC is putting on the field and the secondary has them stealing the air sickness bag off the plane when they reach RDU. In two games so far, UNC opponents have a net total of 60 yards rushing or 0.9 yards per attempt. Rutgers had one positive yard rushing on the day. So far this season UNC has nine sacks, 15 tackles for a loss and 10 quarterback hurries. The pressure on the opposing quarterback and backfield in general has been relentless. However even with the pressure, if the opposing QB finds time to throw the football he will most definitely like what he see. UNC's secondary, which was a point of concern coming into the season, has unfortunately lived down to that. In the game against James Madison, the Duke had two pass plays which exceeded 40 yards. Against Rutgers UNC did not give up the big play but only because Scarlet Knight receivers had the same problem with the football as UNC players did, they couldn't hold on to it. Tre Boston was routinely burned with the Rutgers receiver dropping the football as it landed right in his hands. When that wasn't happening, UNC was being eaten alive by all sorts of short passing routes in the middle of the field. Essentially the corners couldn't keep up and the safeties were not providing adequate coverage. So far this season UNC has given up three passing TDs, 11.0 yards per catch and has zero INTs to show for themselves. The lack of INTs is probably the biggest concern. UNC is currently operating on a -6 turnover margin because of the flukish manner of Saturday's game but also because the defense has yet to produce any of their own. Over the past three seasons UNC has 58 INTs in 39 games or 1.4 INTs per game. At worst UNC should have snagged at least one in each of the first two games of the season and given that Rutgers threw the ball 47 times one would think that would result in more takeaways. The only potential help UNC has coming for the secondary is in the form of Jabari Price who could return for the ECU game and even then it might be only a marginal improvement. For now it will be up to the defensive front seven to do their best to disrupt the passing game at the point of origin.

5. Where is everyone?

If I can move away from the on-the-field topics to ask where the heck were all the UNC fans at on Saturday? If you were watching on TV, you may have noticed there were quite a few empty seats in Kenan Stadium on Saturday. The fact you could notice that on TV is disturbing since most camera angles tend to hide such things. It was clear both by watching TV and reports from Kenan that the stadium was well short of being full. The question is why? Was the weather so good on Saturday people opted for a day at the beach over a UNC game? Did the 12:30 start, which are notoriously bad for UNC, keep people away? Was this indeed some form of protest against Holden Thorp over the handling of Butch Davis' ouster? Whatever the reason, it should be noted that for all the talk we hear from Deems May about the administration "de-emphasizing" football if Kenan continues to look like it did on Saturday, the blame for de-emphasis will fall squarely on the fan base. I suppose you could argue the administration signaled they were de-emphasizing football and the fans are simply following suit and if you did argue that I would call you a complete moron. Just because the administration makes an ill-timed decision does not mean the fan base should abandon the team and program. If you want big time football then you still show up and do your part make it a big time game day environment. Besides, it is not like Butch Davis was fired for nothing nor is he the only one who can turn the football program into a consistent winner despite what some may think. The bottom line here is poorly attended home games is not the kind of look you want for a school sitting at the crossroads where football is concerned.