College Football: North Carolina 42, James Madison 10
Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 3, 2011
By Joedy McCreary
CHAPEL HILL ó For weeks, Everett Withers refused to let anyone focus on his debut as North Carolinaís interim coach. Fittingly, he celebrated his first win Saturday by praising his young quarterback and honoring the man he replaced a week before training camp.
Bryn Renner threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns while setting an ACC record for accuracy in his first start, helping the Tar Heels beat James Madison 42-10.
When it was over, Renner sought out Withers on the sideline and greeted him with a big hug. Then Withers said the team would send a game ball to Butch Davis, who was unexpectedly fired amid the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the program.
ěIt was kind of a sentimental moment between me and coach Withers,î Renner said of the postgame hug. ěWe had Coach Davis on our minds and our hearts.î
Athletic director Dick Baddour said Davis was at Kenan Stadium, although he wasnít spotted in the stands.
ěIt hit (him) the first time he was not going to be sitting in that special teams meeting,î Withers said. ěIt hit me. So I told the kids on Thursday that weíre getting ready to paint this ball up for Coach and give it to him.î
Some players said Withers told them Davis would be there, though Withers was cagey about whether he knew for sure if Davis would attend.
ěNo, he didnít tell me that,î Withers said. ěBut an olí ball coach, itís hard to keep away from a good ballgame.î
Withers had spent the past three seasons as defensive coordinator. But when chancellor Holden Thorp said the NCAA probe had caused too much cumulative damage to the universityís reputation for Davis to continue, Withers had his first head-coaching position in 24 seasons in college and the NFL.
In fact, Withersí debut was eerily similar to Davisí debut four years earlier. That also came against James Madison, with the Tar Heels breaking in a first-time starter in T.J. Yates and scoring the first 24 points en route to a 30-7 halftime lead and a 37-14 victory.
This time, the Tar Heels scored the first 21 points and led 28-7 at half when James Madison kicker Cameron Starke plunked the right upright on a 20-yard field goal just before the break.
Renner completed 22 of 23 passes, with his only mistake being an interception on a deep ball in the second quarter. The sophomore completed his first eight passes, including a 34-yard scoring strike to Dwight Jones to cap the gameís opening drive. He hit on his last 14 to tie a school record for most consecutive completions in a game and ended with a 21-yard TD toss to Jones midway through the fourth.
Renner also set the ACC record for highest single-game completion percentage (95.7) with at least 20 attempts and finished just shy of the NCAA mark (95.8 percent) set by Tennesseeís Tee Martin against South Carolina in 1998. He also had a touchdown on a sneak early in the fourth, a successful start to replacing Yates.
ěI know itís the whole offense, but Iím really proud of Bryn because I know what type of guy he is ó real competitive and I know what he does in practice,î linebacker Kevin Reddick said. ěSometimes he kind of gets out of control. But this game, he just took it all under his wings and relaxed.î
A pair of running backs who missed last season certainly made helped, too.
Redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard suffered a knee injury in his third day of practice, while Ryan Houston opted to redshirt after being cleared to return at midseason amid the NCAA probe. While Houston ran for 59 yards and a TD on 16 carries, Bernard showed impressive burst and the patience to let his blocks develop. He had a 12-yard TD run on his second carry before finishing with 64 yards and two scores on just nine carries.
Justin Thorpe threw for 152 yards and a touchdown for the Dukes in his return from a knee injury in last yearís opener that sidelined him the rest of the year. But the Dukes managed 211 total yards and never threatened to repeat last seasonís upset at Virginia Tech.
ěThe overwhelming thing about the game was how they manhandled us,î JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. ěThey just gashed us. I donít know if someoneís gashed us that bad in 10 years.î
The Associated Press