North Carolina Football: Midseason Review and Grades
December 9, 2011, marked the beginning of a new era of North Carolina football.
UNC introduced former Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora as their new head coach, marking the end of the successful, but controversy-ridden Butch Davis/Everett Withers regime.
Fedora promised many changes at North Carolina: a new, high-powered offense, an aggressive and unique defensive scheme and exciting plays on special teams.
Now, halfway through the first season of the Larry Fedora era, we take a look at how successful the Tar Heels have been.
The key component of Fedora's Tar Heels is the no-huddle spread offense.
Led by junior QB Bryn Renner and sophomore RB Giovani Bernard, the Tar Heels have scored an average of 44 points per game, including dominating 60-plus point performances against Elon and Idaho.
They rank ninth in the FBS in total points, and both their passing and rushing attacks are with the top 32 teams in the country.
Fedora has successfully transformed the Tar Heels into an exciting, up-tempo team, a far cry from the pro-style offenses of years past. North Carolina is also extremely effective at spreading the ball to all targets: Five Tar Heels have rushed for a touchdown and eight different players have caught a touchdown pass.
QB Bryn Renner has provided the spark, poise and confidence needed to lead the Tar Heels on offense, and he has one of the best running backs in the country in Giovani Bernard who is currently averaging 9.7 yards per carry. The two Tar Heel losses have come when Bernard was out with a foot injury.
Larry Fedora has stated that the Heels are two plays away from being undefeated.
Nevertheless, offense is the Tar Heels strong suit, and fans should expect the points to keep coming.
The Tar Heel defense has been completely changed by Larry Fedora.
Shying away from the traditional 4-3 defense, Fedora implemented a 4-2-5 scheme used by several college problems, utilizing positions with names like "Ram" and "Bandit."
Things started very smoothly for North Carolina. They held the Elon Phoenixes to only yards en route to their first shutout in thirteen years.
Then the Tar Heels hit a bit of a rocky road, allowing 57 first-half points to Wake Forest and Louisville in consecutive weeks on the road. These two games resulted in two road losses for the Tar Heels, which have stood as the only two blemishes on UNC's schedule.
The bottom line is, North Carolina has been up and down defensively.
While North Carolina has had two shutouts and held three opponents under seven points, they allowed at least four touchdowns in their other three contests.
Turnovers are coming, but the Tar Heels are entering the tough part of their schedule, and they will have to settle down and improve defensively if they want to beat the best in the ACC.
Exciting Special Teams Plays
Larry Fedora also promised excitement on special teams.
And while we haven't seen fake punts run out of the UNC end zone yet, Fedora's special teams units have impressed. Giovani Bernard scored on a 70-yard punt return against Elon, and Sean Tapley scored a 94-yard kickoff return against Virginia Tech that turned the momentum in UNC's favor.
What's a bit confusing to fans is North Carolina's extra point formation.
At times, the Tar Heels line up with just the center and kicker behind the ball, with the entire offensive line running in from the far side of the field just before the kick.
As confusing as that might be, Casey Barth is still one of the best kickers in North Carolina history, and the return game has been pretty good overall. Give Carolina credit for stepping up on special teams.
Larry Fedora promised Carolina fans an exciting, thrilling style of football, and he has delivered on that promise so far.
Carolina has a very respectable 4-2 record, with a 1-1 conference record, good enough for third place in the ACC Coastal division. The Tar Heels pulled off very impressive wins against smaller opponents like Elon and Idaho, and even knocked off Virginia Tech at home for the first time since the 1930s.
But their two losses have prevented them from being nationally recognized.
The offense has been nothing short of dynamic for the Tar Heels. If they can improve their defensive intensity and hold opponents to fewer than 30 points consistently, North Carolina has the potential to win almost any game they play.
As long as Bryn Renner and Giovani Bernard continue to lead the Tar Heels by example, UNC should have no problem winning eight games this season.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
Looking Ahead for UNC
North Carolina has passed many of its early season tests.
It's a new, exciting era of Tar Heels football, but trouble looms on the horizon.
North Carolina now enters the meat and potatoes of its conference season. The key matchup comes October 27th against in-state rival NC State, who have been a thorn in the side of the Tar Heels. Coming off a five-game losing streak in the series, North Carolina will be hyped up and ready to go for a game that should prove whether Carolina football is back to national respectability.
UNC gets one chance to shine on a national level, when they travel to the University of Virginia on Thursday, November 15th (game broadcast on ESPN). National viewers will have a chance to experience Carolina football first hand.
While North Carolina is ineligible for postseason play and ranking in the Coaches Poll, the Tar Heels could play the role of spoiler in the ACC Coastal division, and have a very good chance of winning the division to end the season (a la USC last year).
Fans can expect the same intense, exciting style of play as ACC conference play kicks into high gear, and many thrilling games await the Tar Heels.
2nd Half Schedule
Oct. 13 @ Miami (2:30, ESPNU)
Oct. 20 @ Duke (7:00)
Oct. 27 v. NC State
Nov. 10 v. Georgia Tech
*Nov. 15 @ Virginia (7:30, ESPN)
Nov. 24 v. Maryland
PROJECTED RECORD: 8-4 (5-3)