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September 5, 2013
A week after North Carolina's 2013 season opener, the Tar Heels are still reflecting on the "measuring stick," 27-10 loss to South Carolina.
The weakness on defense, coach Larry Fedora bluntly stated this week, was missed tackles, but the offense, he said reflected a handful of positives.
The ability to protect the football was the most-mentioned high point against a highly touted defense, but the absence of running back Giovanni Bernard showed in the numbers as UNC netted only 99 rushing yards, three fewer than the now-Bengal averaged recording himself per game last season.
But Randy Jordan, the second year running backs coach and first special teams coach was proud of what both the running back and special teams units put on the field Thursday night.
The running back group, anchored by Romar Morris, who rushed for 69 yards, and A.J. Blue, who had 37, is one that Jordan expects a lot of because of its versatility.
The Blue-Morris pair adds a dual-option threat in terms of how UNC running backs can make plays, he says.
"AJ gives us experience - he's a bigger guy, he's a ground-and-pound kind of guy - then you've got flash, number 21, who can make things happen out in open space so I think they compliment each other."
Morris and Blue each averaged 4.6 yards per carry against South Carolina, with Morris having a long of 15 and Blue of 14.
But the two players' different styles of recording those yards is something UNC will use to its advantage as the offense expands its playbook throughout the season and incorporates newer players at the position.
"Then you add in (young guys), like Khris Francis, who is going to be a very good player for us, and T.J. Logan, too," Jordan said about what is to come for the running backs group. "And I'm really excited about those guys, and (about) mixing in some of those young receivers, when the time comes, for them to run the ball in the back."
Fedora and Jordan both say that Francis' non-action in the season opener was an accident rather than a coaching decision by-design, but the on-field college experience still gave the true freshman some high-profile experience.
"In the flow of the game when you've got two guys rotating (at running back) and then you add a third, sometimes that can be a little bit tricky (for the players in position)," Jordan said. "I think the biggest thing for him is staying engaged the whole time."
"It's hard for a young guy who's used to seeing a lot of playing time (to not play), but it was still his first broadcasted game on ESPN and he's still (working through) knowing the plays, taking those mental reps and putting (him)self in the game mentally."
The opening loss to the Gamecocks set a standard for the special teams coverage and return groups in terms of having good performances to beat and a few moments not to repeat throughout the season.
"I think the biggest thing (special teams) wanted to do was ( ) our job, that was the first thing, and I think overall, we did do that," Jordan said. "But the one thing that we wanted to do was we wanted to have two explosive returns in the game and unfortunately we only got one."
T.J. Thorpe's dropped punt in the second quarter cost one of the explosive returns, but his 20-yard punt return in the fourth quarter reflected the in-game mindset Jordan and Fedora emphasis for all of the players on the team.
"I think the biggest thing is that you have to do your job and you have to do your job each and every play.," Jordan said. "It was good to see that (Thorpe) was able to put that behind him. (On the second return) he got out in open space and he didn't make the guy miss and the biggest thing for him is to get in that situation again but make the (defender) miss and go score. We expect that from all our returners."
Jordan said that he wasn't disappointed with what he saw from the special teams, but that he did not see what the Tar Heels need from the coverage or return teams in terms of game-changing play.
"I thought the kids for the most part competed, but we didn't make a difference in the game and each and every game, we want to make a difference, on the coverage units and on the return units," Jordan said. "It was the first game and we've got to make sure we come back this week and we make sure that we have an impact on this game."
"We're excited about that group so when they get a chance to make a big return they've got to make sure they make it count."