ACC Football: North Carolina routs Elon
By Ryan Bisesi
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina went from zero to 31 points pretty quickly in its opener Saturday against Elon. Quite literally, that was only half of it.
Even the players on the field making it happen couldn’t keep up in the Heels’ 62-0 win. There was time to admire its efficiency but not during the game as UNC amassed 300 yards on its first 30 plays to knock out Elon early.
The rapid-fire pace wasn’t lost on quarterback Bryn Renner.
“Coach kind of got on me on the second drive,” Renner said. “I had a tendency to watch Gio run a couple times and the receivers run. We need to get that tempo up and we’re going to do that.”
Carolina debuted its new offense conjured by Larry Fedora but tailback Giovani Bernard would have looked good in any formation with 203 all-purpose yards. Bernard became well-acquainted with the end zone by the end of the first quarter before leaving the game with discomfort in his left knee. It didn’t take long for Bernard to break into the open nor for UNC to go up big in a new live-wire offense that produced the second-most points in school history. The Heels weren’t high-flying, but burned up the turf instead.
“Gio’s amazing,” Salisbury alum Romar Morris said. “Every time he’s on the field, he makes plays.”
Renner threw for 236 yards by completing 14 of 21 passes and had a sound opening game for the second-straight season. Elon didn’t have the horses to run with its host as the Heels got their first shutout since 1999. The Phoenix graced the red zone just once and were rudely met with a Jabari Price interception.
Through the first quarter, UNC averaged 10.2 yards per play with 216 yards on 21 snaps. After stalling out on its first drive, Carolina got the ball near midfield from a punt and saw Bernard emerge.
Bernard’s 59-yard touchdown run put the Heels on the board and his 6-yard TD catch ended a nine-play, 55-yard drive to make it 14-0 one possession later. After a Casey Barth field goal, Bernard scored on a punt return of 70 yards to match a career-best three-TD game. Bernard was held out of the second half as a precaution. There was no need to risk it with a 41-0 edge at the break.
“That was exciting for me because that’s the first time I’ve seen him play in a game,” Fedora said. “I’ve seen it in practice, but that was a lot of fun for me and I’m sure a lot of fun for Tar Heel nation.”
Forty-one first-half points were the most for UNC since 42 in 2009. The 260 punt-return yards set a school and ACC record. Jheranie Boyd’s 35-yard TD catch and another Barth field goal capped the first-half scoring.
“I think Bryn did a really nice job of managing,” Fedora said. “I think you’re going to see some improvement for him from this game to the next game though. There were some up-tempo situations where he wasn’t moving quick enough.”
Elon quarterback Thomas Wilson was under duress for much of the first half and was 13 of 27 passing with two interceptions. Receiver Aaron Mellette, who set Southern Conference records last year, was held to two catches on nine yards.
“We were overmatched from playing this opponent,” Elon coach Jason Swepson said. “Give credit to North Carolina. That’s a good football team.”
Morris entered the game on the Heels’ third drive and finished his first college game with 49 yards rushing and a 30-yard reception. Former Hornet and UNC safety Darien Rankin upended Jeremy Peterson on a big hit over the middle for one of his two tackles.