Tar Heels still searching for a strong running game

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A.J. Blue, 15, had 10 carries for 44 yards in North Carolina’s home opener against Middle Tennessee State. The Tar Heels won 40-20 and are now 1-1 on the season.

His 74-yard punt return that won North Carolina’s matchup with N.C. State for the first time in five years was played again.

Those looking at the television in the press box, watched the replay — flashing back to Oct. 27, 2012, when the Tar Heels defeated the Wolfpack 43-35. He jumped into an ecstatic North Carolina student section, celebrated with his teammates, and eventually retreated back to the locker room.

He prepared for the next week’s game, completed the rest of his sophomore campaign, and eventually received 2012 All-ACC first team honors.

And then Giovani Bernard left.

Now he’s in Ohio, playing professional football with the Cincinnati Bengals .

And now, the Tar Heels are looking to fill the void that Bernard left behind.

After Saturday’s 40-20 home-opening victory against Middle Tennessee State, coach Larry Fedora said the running game has to improve.

“Coming out of that game, the entire game, I’m trying to figure out why we’re not running the ball effectively,” he said.

“Until I sit down and look at that film, it’s hard for me to say. But I’m sure it’s a combination of a lot of things.”

Each of UNC’s running backs — Romar Morris, A.J. Blue and Khris Francis — had 10 carries for 46, 44 and 42 yards respectively. Morris recorded two touchdowns on the day, one of which was a 26-yard run to put the Tar Heels ahead 6-0 with 6:55 remaining in the first quarter.

But he too said that the three of them need to make adjustments in practice.

“We just have to create more big plays — me and A.J. and Khris,” Morris said. “We have to create more big plays — big plays down the field making the second and third level miss.”

Blue said part of the dilemma stems from inexperience. Francis is just a freshman, who didn’t play in the season opener with South Carolina, while Blue and Morris had 82 and 69 carries respectively last season — a far cry from Bernard’s 184.

“When you were out there on that sideline you know at some point (Bernard) was going to break a big run,” he said of last season.

“We have yet to do that. It’s kind of in the back of my mind, but I’m not really trying to let it get to me right now. It’s probably the same with Romar and Khris, as well.”

Senior tight end Jack Tabb isn’t concerned.

“Me, I don’t worry about it at all,” he said. “No one else has voiced that around me. I have no problems with the running game, I have the utmost faith in what they can do.”

He pointed to Morris, sitting just a few feet away.

“The kid right there,” he said.

“He’s fast as lightning.”

sports@dailytarheel.com

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