North Carolina scored 62 points, ran 63 plays and churned out 481 yards against Elon on Saturday – all before the end of the third quarter. By that point of the game, Bryn Renner (14-of-21, 236 yards, 3 TD) and the other Tar Heel starters were already cooling down on the sideline while the second- and third-teamers earned valuable snaps (28 to be exact).
It was at that time that Larry Fedora told offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to step on the brakes. The unstated goal was to make an impression while getting needed reps against an actual opponent after a month of the Tar Heels beating up on each other. Once that mission was complete, the objective then shifted to prevent embarrassment for Elon.
"Blake gets mad at me because I tell him to shut it down and he really gets mad on the phones and he stays mad the rest of the game and he's probably mad right now, but we wanted to move on and get out of the game," Fedora said. "It was time to move on."
When asked what the "shut it down" process involves, Fedora highlighted an emphasis on running the clock and limiting passing attempts. That decision handcuffed the reserves' ability to work in the full scope of the offense, but they still saw more live action as a whole than any backup group in recent memory.
That's the benefit of posting the fourth-largest margin of victory in school history and the most points since delivering a 62-0 thwacking of Ohio in 1995.
North Carolina's offensive statistics were staggering in quality as well as quantity:
- UNC finished with 524 yards on 74 plays, good for a 7.1 yards-per-play average
- The 41 first-half points were the most since UNC scored 42 on Georgia Southern in 2009
- Fourteen different receivers caught a pass, including Renner
- Six of UNC's touchdown drives took 1:55 or less
- UNC converted eight PATs for just the 11th time in school history
A dismantling of the Phoenix was expected. If there was a surprise early, however, it was that North Carolina didn't commit a penalty in the first half. The lone false start occurred with 7:58 to play in the third quarter with Marquise Williams (5-of-6, 27 yards; 6 rushes, 43 yards) and the backups on the field.
"The thing that I thought we stayed away from was the motion penalties and the movement penalties that always seem to plague you in the first game," Anderson said. "I thought that was really a plus."
Part of that is likely due to the bare bones approach in play calling. Anderson only called one gadget play – Erik Highsmith's pass to Renner – and almost every set included three wide receivers and a tight end or four wide receivers, but it was a straightforward business-like game plan intent on pounding the basics.
Fedora described the game plan as being "as simple as we could possibly be."
Renner agreed, saying, "I think it was simpler than we had in spring ball."
This offense is months, maybe years, away from being a finished product, but Saturday provided a foundation for expectations for everyone that waited a long nine months to watch this offensive rebirth in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina averaged 62.5 plays per game in 2011. The Tar Heels had 63 through three quarters on Saturday and were on pace for 84.
Think that sounds impressive? Anderson didn't think so.
"We have a lot of improvement still left to do with our tempo," Anderson said. "I thought we played quick, but we didn't play what I consider fast."
The whirlwind has only just begun.
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