Blue aims to help UNC run game

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Senior Tailback A.J. Blue breaks a tackle in the season opener against South Carolina.

Offensive Coordinator Blake Anderson hasn’t shied away from saying the North Carolina football team’s ground game is far from where he wants it to be, largely attributing the offense’s struggles to one problem.

“The whole continuity of the run game has got to improve,” he said.

Because UNC’s running attack is youthful, trouble with timing and decision-making plagues the corps that features two freshmen and two sophomores both in practice and games.

But if there is one player in the position to revive the team’s running game — which averaged nearly 200 yards per game in 2012 to just 111 in three games this season — it’s UNC’s most seasoned ball carrier, senior A.J. Blue, Anderson said.

“He’s been a leader since day one. Whether he’s on the field or not, he’s always had a presence that I think the guys respect, and he’s doing everything he can to lead,” Anderson said. “I think he takes a tremendous amount of pride in what we’re doing and wants to be better than we are.”

Though Blue didn’t win UNC’s starting running back job in the preseason, he’s still made an impact on the field. The senior ball carrier is second on the team in rushing with 108 yards on the year behind only sophomore Romar Morris, who doesn’t consider himself the team’s sole starter.

“We have a great relationship,” Morris said. “We hang out on and off the field, watch a lot of film together — do a lot of studying — so we both call ourselves the starter. Whoever starts the game doesn’t really matter because we’re both going to go in there and give it our all.”

Blue, who set the UNC record with former running back Giovani Bernard for total touchdowns in a season between a pair of teammates with 29, said the running attack put too much pressure on itself at the start of the year.

“Last year we all knew Gio was going to (score), and when I came in I had no worries,” he said. “I just got to get back to playing my game and being comfortable … I think that goes the same for Romar.”

For Blue, UNC’s success on offense this season will rely heavily on the Tar Heel running backs, which he said have not played up to his or the team’s expectations this season.

“We’re not putting enough points on the board as a running back corps, and at the end of the day you have to have a running game to have an explosive offense,” he said. “We still have a lot to do, a lot to prove not only to ourselves but to the team and coaches as well.

“It’s a work in progress and we haven’t flipped the switch as quickly as we would have liked, but it will come.”

And while the UNC rushing attack has struggled to perform as a cohesive unit, something that contributed to its success last season, there’s one thing Blue and the rest of the Tar Heel ball carriers have not let go of — confidence.

“We’re the best group on the field. We’ve got to have that mentality,” Blue said. “We had it last year and it’s got to carry over to this year. We always talk about the fact that the party doesn’t start until the running backs walk and we have to keep that mentality.”

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