UNC struggles with inconsistency
CHAPEL HILL - It's unclear whether North Carolina is the team that was nearly blown out by halftime against Louisville or the one that nearly pulled off a stunning comeback.
Even the players don't know heading into this weekend's game against East Carolina.
"I wish I could answer that," quarterback Bryn Renner said Monday. "It's going to click sometime. ... We're working hard to find that one jumpstart thing we could have as a team and as a unit offensively. We're searching for it and when we find it, we'll be a good team."
Maybe, but for now, the Tar Heels (1-2) are simply an inconsistent one.
Since opening the year with a 62-0 win against overmatched FCS opponent Elon, North Carolina has lost two straight road games that had some familiar patterns.
At Wake Forest, the Tar Heels didn't look sharp in the first half and trailed at the break. They dominated the third quarter and most of the fourth before giving up a late touchdown drive in the 28-27 loss.
Against the Cardinals, the Tar Heels had a miserable start and trailed 29-0 before nearly completing an improbable comeback - the Tar Heels couldn't haul in the go-ahead touchdown pass in the end zone in the final two minutes - in the 39-34 loss.
It's left first-year coach Larry Fedora struggling to get a handle on what kind of team he has.
"It has been (difficult)," he said. "And that's been tough trying to figure out what it is, what buttons to push and what the reasons are because it's been different in every situation."
The issues have varied, though turnovers were a problem in both road losses. North Carolina has committed three first-half turnovers that led to touchdowns in the past two games.
Yet the defense that looked so confused while giving up 36 first-half points to Louisville stiffened and allowed only a field goal after halftime. That's helped the Tar Heels outscore opponents 61-10 in the second half, including 38-0 in the third quarter.
"We're a team with great potential, great players and great coaching who has to put it all together - and stop making mistakes that kill us," offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper said.
It also hasn't helped the offense that starting tailback Gio Bernard hasn't played since scoring three first-half touchdowns against Elon due to a knee injury, though backups A.J. Blue and Romar Morris have played well in his two-game absence. Fedora, who won't talk about player injuries, said Bernard could be back "any time."
For now, the Tar Heels would settle for a strong start instead of hoping to dig their way out after a bad first half. Fedora said he has to do a better job of making sure the team is ready to play with intensity at kickoff.
"The big thing for us is to come out strong and finish strong and not just be a one-half team because you can lose a game in the first half but you can't win one," Kareem Martin said.
"I think it's big for us to play both halves and show how good of a team we really are."