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September 5, 2011The public, and possibly Chancellor Holden Thorp, may have expected a collapse with the adversity of the UNC football team losing its head coach just days before summer camp convened, but the players and interim coach Everett Withers said the opposite is true.
"Everybody's hopes are to bring something really special to this university, something that may not have ever been done," redshirt freshman running back Giovani Bernard said.
UNC defeated James Madison 42-10 to open the season.
Carolina (1-0) will play its second game this Saturday at Kenan Stadium at 12:30 p.m. on regional television against Rutgers (1-0).
One of the big questions is can UNC execute as well as it did in the opener. James Madison actually has a good football team. The Dukes returned 10 defensive starters from a team that beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., a year ago, but a near flawless game by UNC shredded JMU's defense and shut down the Duke's offense.
Bernard, who gained a team-high 64 yards on just nine carries, said he absolutely expects more of the same. The determination of this group to achieve is why, he said.
"Our team mentality is to go into this next game with the same determination that we had this past week against JMU," Bernard said. "If we can have that week-in and week-out, we can do something real special.
"We really want to do something for this university," Bernard said. "We want to do something so special, maybe a BCS game. But we have to take every game by itself. We have to be prepared for everyone we play against and not overlook any opponents."
Unfortunately, the Tar Heels will have to play without fullback Devon Ramsey, who is out for the season after tearing two ligaments in a knee.
There are plenty of weapons still going, however. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner is one of them. He set a high standard for this team and himself with his record-setting performance on Saturday.
He completed 22-of-23 passes, an ACC record for any quarterback who attempted at least 20 passes in a game. He also threw two touchdown passes.
"He was just really poised," Bernard said of Renner. "He did not get ahead of himself. Even after the interception, he came back strong. He never really worried about that pass.
"To have only one incomplete pass in his first start is an amazing thing. The equivalent would be a running back scoring every single time he got the ball. He is definitely the leader of this team."
Renner said that he will not rest on one game, no more than he thinks this team will let off the gas.
"The type of character kids we have on the team now [will stick together]," Renner said. "I'm not saying we didn't before, but there were some distractions before with certain players.
"We did a great job Saturday of playing football and having fun. Our main goal was to go out there and have fun."
The Tar Heels' offense played so well it overshadowed a solid game by the defense. JMU gained just 59 yards rushing and had 211 total offensive yards compared to Carolina's 461.
Another factor that may have gone unnoticed by many fans is the Tar Heels caught the ball on punts. Last year, Carolina let far too many punts hit the ground and roll, costing the Tar Heels precious yards in field position.
"From Day One of practice in the preseason," Withers said, "we have been harping on effective field position. If you look at it in the kicking game, we won the effective field position by 23 yards in this past ball game. We could have won it by more if we had not muffed our punt snap.
"We feel like that is such a big part of the game, fielding punts and not letting them the ball hit the ground and determine whether we will lose field position. We can control that."
With the right attitude and a roster full of talent, it appears Carolina is going to be able to control a whole lot more.