UNC coach Larry Fedora held his weekly press conference Monday morning as the Tar Heels prepare to travel for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game at Miami.
Gio Bernard was named ACC Offensive Back of the Week on Monday.
Fedora gave his take on …
Evaluating the team at the midpoint of his inaugural season …
“The good thing is we’ve won four games. The bad is we’ve lost two.
“Probably looking at the big picture, I think we’re tackling better on defense. We’re playing, as a team, with much better energy level than we were at the beginning of the season. Guys are a little more comfortable in all three phases, so we’re able to play faster.
“The concern area for me is playing smart. We had 15 penalties the other day. So we have to play much smarter than that, and that’s going to be important for our success.
“But we are getting better each week. That’s what you want as a coach, and if we keep doing that, we have the chance to be a good football team.”
The nature of those penalties …
“Well, we had consecutive punts where we leaned and fell forward and jumped offsides. We had a couple of pre-snap penalties. When you’re handling your cadence the way we handle ours sometimes, you’re going to have that.
“We have to do a better job with our hands. We had too many holding calls. So our guys have to play smarter, that’s all there is to it.”
Offensive growth …
“It’s really big. You have two sophomores and a freshman who are making plays for you. It’s really important in this offense – everybody was talking about Gio (Bernard) from the beginning, but if you don’t have an ‘X’ where Quinshad (Davis) is making plays over there so teams can’t just roll up to the other side … they have to account for him, which now opens it up for (Eric) Ebron or (Sean) Tapley over the middle
“So we have a few guys who are all contributing and making plays and really just taking what they’re giving us. Earlier in the season, Mookie (Erik Highsmith) was making more plays, but he’s giving us other things other places right now.
“When you can be balanced as far as your run-pass and all those things, it makes it much tougher to defend.”
“He’s made some big plays the last couple of weeks. You saw that in spring. He worked really hard. He’s a kid who doesn’t talk a whole lot and is really kind of quiet. He just goes about his business every single day.
“He’s not a guy you have to worry about because he prepares hard. And it’s all paying off for him.”
The challenge presented by the Hurricanes …
“Miami’s leading the Coastal Division. Now the way it sets up, we have to go through Miami to get where we want to be. Al (Golden) has his team prepared well. They’re a young football team, but they have a lot of athletes, they’re getting a lot of experience, and they’re flying around.
“They have talent. They’re as talented a team as there is in the league. They’ve got guys who can run, guys who have size. They have receivers who can go. So they’ve got the players there. Just right now, from my understanding, they’ve played more freshmen than anybody in the country. I don’t know that to be sure, but that’s one of the statements I’ve heard.
“The most glaring thing is (their) speed. They have guys who can run at every position. You watch the first play against Notre Dame the other day and the receivers just run right by them. They just didn’t complete it.
“Scheme-wise, they’ve been able to run and throw it. Defensively, they’ve given up some in the running game, and part of it has just been inconsistency. They have guys that can go. But you’re seeing them play freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores at a lot of positions.”
Offensive line’s development …
“We had fewer mistakes up front and guys had great effort. Tempo – our guys are now seeing the light come on. Now I understand. It’s not the offensive line saying in practice, golly, we get so many reps, I’m just tired. It’s not that anymore.
“It’s, now I understand why we’re doing that. Guys on the sideline are saying let’s go, they can’t handle the tempo. Now they truly understand that.
Bernard’s performance …
“You know, it’s not like I turn the film on and go wow because it’s something we see all the time. It is a wow, and I guess for us, that’s kind of old hat. If you get him to the second level and he can make the linebacker or safety miss, you have the chance for a big play.
“For our receivers, that makes it to where even thought that timer is going off in our head, if I give that little more, we’ve got the chance to make something happen. He can turn something that’s not there into something big.
When he first realized Bernard was special …
“I knew the guy ran for 1200 yards last year, so you know he had something.
“I do remember him in recruiting. I knew who he was. Didn’t have an opportunity to recruit him. I saw his film in high school and he was pretty special. And he’s continued to do that. But there’s a lot of guys you watch on film in high school who look pretty special, but they don’t do it at the next level.
“A lot of that is the type of person he is. He has the athletic skills, but to go in and prepare and do it week in and week out for games, that’s different.
“When everybody else asked me questions about whether Gio would be part of the offense. Will he play a role in this new spread offense? Everybody else asked me about this, and he never asked me a question about it. He never once asked me a single question about it. So that said something right there to me about the kid. It wasn’t about Gio; it was about the football team.”
Are there times where it’s tough to get guys like Romar Morris touches?
“As a football team, as we get more comfortable with what we’re doing – our guys doing a good job with adjustments out there and knowing what’s going on -- we as a coaching staff are able to get more creative. We’re not at that point yet where we can open the playbook up and do much more.
“What we’re doing right now is enough, and they’re grasping it. That’s important. That’s something you have to guard against as a coaching staff. If we continue to play smart and physical and execute, we’ll do fine.
“We don’t hide it. It’s all about production. If somebody’s producing in the game, we’re not Justin going to pull them off to see if somebody else can. You show that that unit’s better on the field, you’re going to be out there.”