The story of the Spring Game – which can also be said for the entirety of spring practice – was the frenetic pace. In the first half alone the two teams ran 102 plays. The second half, during which the clock never stopped, resulted in fewer plays but the total count still reached 156, roughly three times as many as the previous coaching staff would run.
For a point of reference, UNC averaged 62 offensive plays a game in 2011. Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson has said that the goal is to run 80 to 85 plays per game.
"For me, it was awful slow out there and sluggish in between the plays, so we've still got a ways to go in understanding the tempo," head coach Larry Fedora told reporters following the game. "But it's not hard to see the stress you can put on a defense."
Quarterback Bryn Renner, who completed 23 of his 28 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns, echoed his coach's sentiments.
"I would agree with him that we were going a little slow," Renner said. "I agree 100 percent."
Even though the pace of play fell short of expectations, it still posed a problem for the offenses, especially early. There were 13 penalties overall, including numerous illegal formation and false start calls – six of those in the first four possessions combined for both teams.
Anderson indicated those types of penalties didn't just pop up on Saturday.
"It's been our Achilles' heel," Anderson said. "We talked about it yesterday and today again reminding them. I think it just has to do with the speed of how we're playing is so different. The terminology is obviously different, but the speed is different.
"They're not having that time to process from the huddle to the line of scrimmage. They're having to do it now and something as simple as the snap count or the cadence is creating a bigger issue than it normally would be. They settled down gradually and got better as we went and we were able to move the ball, but that has been a huge issue, bigger than I expected it to be."
Regardless of the learning curve, there was still plenty of offense on hand to excite the fan base. Renner proved to be the most accurate passer, but backup Marquise Williams (123 yards, TD, on 17-of-32 passing) showcased his foot speed and understanding of the read-option scheme.
Gio Bernard (5 rushes for 36 yards) was electric early, but was blown up on a third down play in the red zone by Devonte Brown. Bernard needed five stitches on the top of his head after his helmet popped off and sat the remainder of the game despite being cleared to return.
Romar Morris switched sides to work with the first team and ended up with a highlight reel that included three touchdowns (1 rushing, two passing) and 75 total yards (40 rushing, 35 passing).
"He stepped in when Gio didn't come back in and made some good plays," Fedora said. "He made some really nice runs, showed some good vision and caught the ball on the seam the one time for a touchdown. It looked like he picked up the blitz pretty good, so he made some progress this spring."
Both offenses ran a variety of unique sets, including double wide receiver stacks and several looks with tight ends lined up behind the tackle in the backfield. Each offense was allowed one trick play, with the Blue team choosing a flea flicker that resulted in a 55-yard pass play to Sean Tapley. The White team's choice – a hook-and-ladder – ended up as an incomplete pass.
While those fireworks would have been seen as wild and crazy under the previous regime, that's not the case with this staff.
"We were, for us, probably vanilla today," Anderson said.
Anderson told reporters that around 70 percent of the offense had been installed this spring, but was quick to point out that summer work and training camp would determine how much more, if any, would be added before the 2012 season. He said
his offense could be effective next fall with just the pieces that are currently installed.
Renner estimated that even less of the playbook has been installed, noting that UNC didn't run a complicated system on Saturday so that the offense could focus on the base package.
"We did an adequate job, but we can get a lot better just with the base stuff," Renner said.
As Fedora has stated at every opportunity this spring, this offense has a long ways to go, but if Saturday proved anything, it's that conservative play calling is a thing of the past.
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