Renner set to start on Zero Dark Thursday
It’s what was on everyone’s mind, but it was the last thing North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora addressed after Monday’s practice.
After missing UNC’s last game against Virginia Tech with a foot injury, would quarterback Bryn Renner return to the starting lineup Thursday against No. 10 Miami?
Fedora delivered his answer with no hesitation.
“Yes, definitely,” he said.
Renner sustained the injury against East Carolina Sept. 28.
Heading in a matchup with the Hokies two weeks ago, Renner expected to play, but Fedora held out his third-year starter, giving redshirt sophomore Marquise Williams his first career start.
For Renner, who had not previously missed a start since making the first of his career against James Madison in 2011, it was hard to watch the Tar Heels (1-4, 0-2 ACC)fall to Virginia Tech 27-17.
“As a competitor, you want to be out there to help your team,” Renner said. “Just for my first experience being on the sideline in about two years, it was tough for me — not being out there with the guys.”
The redshirt senior signal caller said he made his return to the practice field last Tuesday during the bye week, full speed and ready to go.
Redshirt senior tailback A.J. Blue said the team will benefit from the leadership Renner brings, especially as the Tar Heels head into a matchup with a Miami team that boasts the top-ranked passing defense in the ACC.
Following his last game, Renner ranked atop the ACC in passing with an average of 279.2 yards per game. But, after missing the Virginia Tech game, he dropped to third.
“He directs guys everywhere in every which way they need to go — we need that leadership.” Blue said. “He was moving full speed last week and I felt good about it. I watched him a few times run around and kind of shook my head, ‘Ok, he’s feeling good. He’s back.’ We’re really ready for him to be back.”
With Renner back in the starting lineup, UNC will be able to return to its one-two quarterback punch, with a speedy Williams seeing occasional reps to bolster the team’s running game.
Despite having only allowed two passing touchdowns this year, the Hurricanes rank 11th in rushing defense, surrendering an average of nearly 170 yards on the ground per game.
“When (Marquise) comes in the game with different personnel, he can bring things to the table as far as running the ball,” Renner said. “We’re going to be looking to utilize us both in the game coming up.”
Williams said, though it means he’ll return the starting job back to Renner, he’s excited for Renner to be back heading into what’s being branded as Zero Dark Thursday.
“This is Bryn’s team. I’ve been doing my role as a backup and that’s what I’ll do the rest of this year,” he said. “Ain’t really much to say. I’m glad he’s back, to be honest. A lot of people think there’d be a lot of controversy for us. ‘Oh, you’re starting since he’s injured.’
“But I’m behind him 100 percent. This is his team, I’m on his boat and we’re ready to ride.”