Let’s offer the necessary caveat before we proceed any further – North Carolina (3-2) was a 27-point favorite over Idaho (0-5) and that spread probably should have been higher.
That being said, the Tar Heels could have slept-walked out of the locker room, thanks to a small crowd, a steady rain and an inferior opponent at Kenan Stadium. Head coach Larry Fedora has stressed playing with energy over the last two weeks, and regardless of opponent, UNC earned high marks for its effort level early.
“Everybody said we were a second-half team and that we couldn’t start fast, so we spent a lot of time talking about starting fast and making things happen from the beginning,” Fedora told reporters during his postgame press conference. “We did that from the second or third play of the game going downtown for the touchdown and then coming back and blocking a punt.
“I think everybody was excited about getting something started early in the game.”
Bryn Renner, who completed 10 of his 12 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter, connected with Sean Tapley for a 36-yard touchdown pass just 88 seconds in. The sophomore receiver snuck behind a defender down the seam thanks to a flea flicker call.
On UNC’s next possession, Eric Ebron was credited with a 13-yard reception to the goal line, but a fumble at the six-yard-line resulted in a Erik Highsmith fumble recovery for the score.
Special teams got into the action when Romar Morris (12 carries, 74 yards) blocked his second punt of the season, setting UNC up with a 1st-and-goal at the five. Two plays later, Gio Bernard (two carries, 70 yards, 2 TD) found a hole on the left side for a two-yard touchdown run to push the Tar Heel lead to 21-0 less than nine minutes into the game.
Freshman wide receiver Quinshad Davis completed the quarter's scoring with a 35-yard touchdown reception down the left sideline after making a solid play on the ball with a defender on his hip.
The Tar Heel defense set the table for its offensive counterpart, forcing three-and-outs on Idaho’s first five possessions. UNC’s average starting field position in the opening quarter was Idaho’s 45-yard-line.
“It definitely takes their spirit away from the game,” safety Tre Boston said, referencing Idaho’s three-and-outs. “Five straight is demoralizing. It’s something that they don’t want to happen. Once you have five straight, it’s like, ‘Do I even want to play anymore?’ And once we get them down like that, we make sure that we step on them and try to keep them down.”
The final stats of the opening quarter were staggering. North Carolina outgained Idaho, 239-18, and held a 10-0 advantage in first downs. The Vandals nearly ran as many plays (16) as they gained yards (18) and failed to convert any of their five third-down opportunities.
The importance of the strong start provides tangible evidence that the Tar Heels can put together a full 60 minutes.
“We wanted to show everybody that we can do it in the first half,” Bernard said. “With a game like Virginia Tech coming up here, we’ve got to be able to start fast and smart and physical and not just wait until the second half to come back.”
Now North Carolina just needs to prove it can start strong against a BCS-level opponent. That opportunity arrives next week when the Hokies come to Chapel Hill.
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