Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson couldn’t help but crack a grin when asked about Bernard’s performance during his postgame interview.
“He can play,” Anderson said. “He obviously makes us better coaches. He can extend some plays that shouldn’t be. He’s invaluable to us…
“No. 26 came out of the gate ready to run.”
Bernard rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, caught two passes for 10 yards and a touchdown and returned two punts for 100 yards and a touchdown. He equaled his career high with three touchdowns and totaled 203 all-purpose yards.
The All-ACC running back’s first carry on Saturday was a read-option play that yielded just three yards. He followed that run up with gains of 12 and five yards before UNC’s opening drive stalled.
Bernard took the first snap of the second possession 59 yards for a touchdown by turning the corner and tip-toeing down the sideline to give the Tar Heels a 7-0 lead. That play represented the second-longest scoring run of his career (60 vs. Rutgers in 2011). The red-shirt sophomore scored on a 6-yard reception five minutes later and then proceeded to lock in his starting punt returner job with a 70-yard jaunt to push UNC’s lead to 24-0.
Fedora’s spread offense was expected to provide more seams and therefore more opportunities for Bernard to dominate a game. While Elon is likely the worst team on North Carolina’s schedule, the play designs provided enough detail to suggest that Bernard will have numerous 1-on-1 chances out of the backfield.
His speed, quickness and strength – he broke one tackle and carried another defender into the end zone on his touchdown reception – compliment this spread look impeccably.
The Heisman Trophy pronouncements rising from the Tar Heel fan base early in the game quickly turned to panicked concern when the Tar Heel Sports Network reported that Bernard was out for the game after experiencing discomfort in his left knee. He headed to the locker room late in the second quarter and never returned to the sideline.
That apprehension was short-lived, however, as Fedora provided just enough of an update during his postgame conference.
“He could have gone back in,” Fedora said. “There was no reason to put him back in, though.”
Bernard averaged 15.6 yards per touch, including a 10.3 yards-per-carry effort. Saturday marked his fifth career multi-touchdown game at North Carolina.
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