In a mere matter of minutes following Bernard’s game-winning 74-yard punt return for touchdown with 13 seconds left last fall, O’Brien’s choice became a punch line for Tar Heel fans.
While the botched fake punt was nowhere near as dramatic – not to mention occurring in the first quarter – it allowed North Carolina to score three plays later to take its first lead at 14-10 and complete a significant momentum swing after falling behind 10-0 early.
“I thought we had it and it didn’t work, so that’s on me,” Doeren told reporters following UNC’s 27-19 win.
With 2:44 to play in the opening quarter, N.C. State lined up for a punt on 4th-and-8 from its own 30-yard line. Senior linebacker Robert Caldwell lined up as the up-back and took the direct snap instead of punter Wil Baumann.
Caldwell followed his blockers toward the left side of the line, but UNC freshman Desmond Lawrence and a host of Tar Heel defenders sniffed the play out for a 1-yard loss.
“They’re a big hold-up team – they turn their eyes to their guys – and we thought we could get around the edge,” Doeren said. “They did a nice job defending it, obviously. It was on tape and they gave us the look I thought it would work against and it didn’t work.”
The reason the fake punt didn’t work, however, is because UNC knew it was coming. Doeren was announced as the N.C. State head coach on Dec. 2, 2012, exactly one month before his former team at Northern Illinois would play Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey, who served as Doeren’s offensive coordinator, called the exact same fake punt on 4th-and-2 in the first quarter against the Seminoles. Desroy Maxwell took the snap and scampered 35 yards down the left sideline.
“I had watched every snap of Northern Illinois’s tape and they had run three fakes that season and that was one of them,” Fedora said on Monday. “That was one of them that we worked on. We worked on all three of them for the game. Our guys were prepared. They recognized it when they saw the formation and they executed it. They did a really nice job.”
UNC cornerback Jabari Price, who starts on the punt kick unit but is a backup on punt return and thus not on the field for the fake punt, said the Tar Heels were ready due to game prep.
“Coach Fedora set that up all week long,” Price said. “They showed it in their bowl game against Florida State. He showed it also in some other game that NIU played a few years ago.
“He said, ‘This is the exact play they’re going to run.’ And I’m like, ‘nah,’ all week long and surprisingly they ran it. I didn’t see it coming, so he takes all full credit for that.”
Doeren’s bag of tricks - which also included an onside kick - was on display against Florida State even though he wasn’t on the sideline coaching.
“He’s full of gadgets,” Price said, “so it was something we expected all week long and he lived up to that.”
Fedora has been harping on his special teams’ inability to come up with a game-changing play throughout the course of the season, but that’s exactly how he described the fake punt play on Monday.