CHAPEL HILL – Larry Fedora sure keeps his promises.
The first-year coach guaranteed that his offense would be fast, and in his first game as coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels, he emphatically proved it.
UNC’s first drive averaged just 17 seconds per play, and it sped up from there. As quickly as North Carolina rushed back to the line of scrimmage, the game was finished.
Ahead 41 points at halftime with more than 500 all-purpose yards, North Carolina cruised, 62-0, against Elon University in the season opener at Kenan Stadium.
Despite a lump in his stomach that rose to his throat during the past week, Fedora led North Carolina three points shy of an 84-year-old record for points and to its first shutout since 1999.
“All I wanted to be after this game was 1-0,” Fedora said. “Now, we’re 1-0.”
Fedora also wanted North Carolina (1-0) to run nearly 80 plays per game. The Tar Heels didn’t quite hit that mark, but most of the starters spent the vast majority of the second half on the bench.
But speed was North Carolina’s focus Saturday. That’s why it spent just 20 seconds per play on its first five scoring drives and rapidly took the lead.
“With about three minutes left in the third quarter, I told them to shut it down,” said Fedora, who still noticed plenty of mistakes despite the dominating performance. “We still got 74 plays in. … We wanted to move on and get out of the game.”
Of North Carolina’s first six touchdown-producing drives, five took less than 1:30 and three were completed in less than a minute even with a gameplan more simple than the spring game. More than once, quarterback Bryn Renner was caught admiring his playmakers.
“I had a tendency to watch Gio run a couple times and watch some of the receivers run,” Renner said. “We need to get that tempo up.”
At the root of the rapid pace was sophomore running back Giovani Bernard, who scored a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the first half.
“That was Heisman-worthy,” Renner said.
Bernard finished with 203 all-purpose yards as North Carolina beat an FCS school for the sixth straight year and opened its third straight season with a new head coach.
“That was exciting for me because that’s the first time I’d seen him play in a game,” Fedora said. “I’ve seen him in practice, but until you get to see it in a game do you get to see him light it up, do you get to see the burst of explosiveness. That was a lot of fun to see.”
In addition to the scoring spree, North Carolina set an ACC and school record with 260 punt return yards. It’s the one phase of the game where Fedora isn’t stepping on someone else’s toes.
That’s the unit he coaches directly.
“It is my unit, and I do take a lot of pride in it,” Fedora said. “... We talked about making a game-changing play and being the unit that gets to do that.”
They were also the unit that made some record-changing plays.
Everything North Carolina did Saturday was quick, except when the North Carolina fans slowly filed out of Kenan Stadium even before halftime. Not many fans were left to see Renner throw his third touchdown pass of the game to tight end Jack Tabb, his first collegiate touchdown.
There still was nearly 11 minutes to play in the third quarter.
Elon freshman and Southern Nash graduate Tracey Coppedge finished with nine carries for 10 yards, and he caught a screen pass for 21 yards.
Without the scoreboard, it would have been tough to determine whether North Carolina was being blown out, or the Tar Heels were on the positive end of a convincing win.
The scoreboard and the box score told a slightly different story than the sparse crowd that finally remained when North Carolina hit the 60-point mark.
Six different players scored and 21 different players recorded at least one touch.
“I don’t know if one game will establish the identity, because there wasn’t much adversity for us in that game,” Fedora said. “Until we have to face some adversity, it’s hard to find out who you really are.”
Midway through the second quarter, the television broadcast starting experiencing technical difficulties Maybe they couldn’t keep up either.
Elon (0-1) sure couldn’t.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org