North Carolina (6-3, 2-3 ACC) capitalized on a pair of turnovers on Wake Forest’s opening two possessions to build a 14-0 lead with 4:12 remaining in the first half. Tanner Price’s sack-fumble led to a Giovani Bernard seven-yard touchdown reception and then the Tar Heels took advantage of a Charles Brown interception with an eight-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a Erik Highsmith four-yard touchdown reception.
The Demon Deacons (5-3, 4-2 ACC) cut their deficit to 14-7 on Brandon Pendergrass’s eight-yard touchdown run. A blocked punt then set up Jimmy Newman for a 22-yard field goal. North Carolina closed the half with its longest drive of the season – 96 yards – and Bernard (27 carries, 154 yards, 2 TD) added a touchdown run to his stat line from four yards out.
After Pendergrass scampered for a 30-yard scoring run midway through the third quarter to inch Wake Forest within 21-17, North Carolina exploded for 28 unanswered points to build a 49-17 lead.
The Tar Heels sandwiched two lengthy scoring drives around two short-field touchdowns set up by turnovers as four different players found the end zone. Ryan Houston scored from one yard out for the 11th time in his career, Bernard added a second four-yard run, Highsmith (4 catches, 87 yards, 2 TD) caught a 38-yard touchdown pass and A.J. Blue finalized UNC’s scoring with a five-yard run with 4:38 left in regulation.
Tommy Bohanan sealed the final score with a three-yard touchdown run with 2:23 remaining.
UNC’s 49 points and 562 yards of offense represent the highest totals since the ’04 season opener against William & Mary.
Price completed 17 of his 29 passes for 146 yards and three interceptions in directing Wake Forest to 331 total yards of offense.
INSIDE THE GAME
Turnovers Come in a Flurry
Wake Forest entered Saturday’s contest ranked 21st nationally in turnover margin (plus-0.71) with only five giveaways through seven games. North Carolina, on the other hand, ranked 103rd nationally with a minus-0.75 turnover margin after having coughed up 18 turnovers in its first eight games.
Making the Demon Deacons’ turnover statistics even more impressive is the fact they had only allowed 14 points off those turnovers – both interceptions returned for touchdown.
North Carolina equaled that point total in the first quarter and carried a 3-1 turnover margin into halftime. Wake Forest’s first turnover of the second half – a Kevin Reddick tipped pass corralled by tackle Tydreke Powell -- gave the Tar Heels a short field on the 34-yard-line. Bernard’s four-yard touchdown run five plays later on the first play of the fourth quarter increased UNC’s lead to 35-17.
On Wake Forest’s very next possession, Zach Brown (9 tkl, 2.5 TFL, sack, FF, FR, INT) intercepted Price at UNC’s 37 and returned it 22 yards. The Demon Deacons quarterback had thrown three picks all season and matched that total against UNC.
“It’s something that we’ve been working on in practice and throughout the season,” Brown told reporters following the game. “Coach said turnovers would come and they came.”
UNC head coach Everett Withers attributed the turnover avalanche to preparation.
“I think our guys did a great job, our coaches on defense did a great job of studying their offense, their passing game especially with splits and alignments,” Withers said.
North Carolina won the turnover battle (5-1) for just the second time this season.
Renner Maturing Under Center
Renner has absorbed a significant dose of criticism this season for a first-year starter that ranked seventh nationally in passing efficiency (166.4) heading into Saturday’s Homecoming game. But poor decisions at glaringly inopportune times tend to draw that reaction, and the red-shirt sophomore has never been one to deflect blame.
The Demon Deacons brought their 25th-ranked pass efficiency defense, including freshman standout corner Merrill Noel, to Kenan Stadium on Saturday, but ultimately departed having been exposed.
Renner completed 21 of his 28 passes for a career-high 338 yards and three touchdowns. His yardage total against Wake ranks 13th in school history. For the season, Renner’s 19 touchdowns moves him into a tie for second-place all-time with T.J. Yates (’10) and now stands four shy of Chris Keldorf’s 1996 mark.
He is completing 72.7 percent of his passes on the season. No Tar Heel quarterback with at least 100 attempts has ever completed 70 percent of his passes in a season.
Renner delivered his status quo press conference approach following the game, praising all of his teammates for producing his numbers, but his ability to shake off last weekend’s disappointment and direct a lethal offensive attack against the Demon Deacons speaks to his maturation.
“I really believe it’s just a matter of Bryn getting to those routes,” Withers said. “Those routes have been there all year long. It’s just a matter of him throwing them and getting to them. It’s the maturation process of a young quarterback. You don’t have to throw it 80 yards down the field to get 15 or 20. You can throw it for five and let some of the good players run for it.”
Renner completed passes to nine different receivers on Saturday, including six passes to Dwight Jones for 138 yards.
Player Meeting Details
Sunday at the Kenan Football Center is devoted to film review and a walk-through of the previous day’s game, so the players have to wait until Monday to get a day off. But last Monday, Renner and linebacker Kevin Reddick went to work and organized a players-only meeting that afternoon.
“I felt like we just needed to come together as a team,” Renner said.
Renner indicated that he joined Reddick and the seniors in addressing the team. While he refused to provide explicit details of the meeting, Renner did say that players taking ownership of the team was a talking point.
“Ultimately, the players control whether we win games or lose games,” Renner said. “I think that’s the big thing we focused on in our players’ meeting. The coaches do a great job of coaching us and it falls into our hands to make plays out there on Saturday. We didn’t make any excuses and we just put it out there on the table and really said some stuff that helped us come together.”
Zach Brown also elaborated on the meetings during his interview with reporters.
“Everybody had a heart-to-heart with each other and was like, ‘Hey, you need to fix this, you need to fix this,’” Brown said. “And we fixed it… I told the [defensive backs] today, ‘You did a good job.’ I said, ‘Tre, you fixed it, didn’t you?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’”
Withers said a second players’ meeting took place at the team hotel prior to leaving for the stadium.