Bernard has a career high in rushing yards in Saturday game
In a situation designed for a short-yardage play, the Virginia Tech defense crashed to the middle of the field at Kenan Stadium Saturday, desperate to stop North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner from using a keeper to convert on fourth-and-inches.
But instead of a sneak, the Hokies got a show.
With all eyes on a play up the middle, tailback Giovani Bernard took advantage of a wide-open hole on the left side of the field, gaining not just inches, but a 62-yard touchdown as he left the last Virginia Tech defender in the dust 15 yards behind him.
The second-quarter play might have left Hokie defenders bewildered, but not North Carolina coach Larry Fedora.
“That’s Gio,” he simply stated after the Tar Heels’ 48-34 win against Virginia Tech.
In North Carolina’s first home victory against Virginia Tech since 1938, Bernard rushed for a career-high 262 yards, the first Tar Heel to rush for more than 200 yards in almost a decade. Bernard’s average of 11.4 yards per carry is the highest in school history, breaking Kelvin Bryant’s 11.1 mark set in 1981.
But even as he stood at the podium in the Kenan Football Center after the game to talk about his career day, an unassuming Bernard bashfully attempted to divert the attention to his teammates.
“I didn’t even know until someone told me after the game that I had that (many yards),” Bernard said. “Honestly, we had 300-plus rushing yards. That by itself showed that the offensive line did a great job today. They’re the ones out there struggling. They’re in the trenches.”
The North Carolina offensive line — which, in addition to providing solid blocking all game long, helped protect Renner against a blitz-heavy Virginia Tech defense — was just as much responsible for his individual success during the game as he was, Bernard conceded.
The redshirt sophomore tailback had a variety of players to thank for rush-conducive protection — including his own quarterback.
On first-and-10 from the North Carolina 36-yard line, with the Tar Heels leading 38-26 in the third quarter, Bernard took a handoff from Renner, spinning away from a Virginia Tech defender at the 40-yard line.
As his teammate rushed 51 yards down the sideline, Renner used his shoulder to block an oncoming Hokie defender.
“(Offensive lineman) James Hurst and I were talking about it, and I mean it was actually a great block,” a grinning Jonathan Cooper said. “He butt blocked him. Maybe not the best technique, but I mean it was a great job and allowed Gio to get a few more yards.”
Prior to the Tar Heels’ 27-6 victory against the Pirates, Bernard sat out the previous 10 quarters as he recovered from a lingering knee injury.
But despite a sluggish start to Bernard’s season, Fedora knew that nothing about his star tailback was slow.
So during the end-of-quarter media timeout, Fedora let his offensive line persuade him to go for it on fourth-and-inches from North Carolina’s 38-yard line instead of punting the ball away.
“(Gio is) standing there,” Fedora said, “and I said, ‘Look. You’ve got to get six inches here.’”
Before returning to the field to stun the Hokies with a 62-yard touchdown scamper, a confident Bernard was quick to ease his coach’s mind.
“I’ll get more than that.”
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