Running backs Giovani Bernard and Ryan Houston — both of whom redshirted last season — each scored at least one touchdown in the first half.
The offensive line, Houston said, made his job much easier.
“This O-line is big and strong,” he said. “Every time me or Gio (Bernard) gets the ball, we feel like there’s something there — always. This O-line is what we’re going to carry our horses on.”
North Carolina’s defense kept up with its offense, holding the Dukes deep within their own territory until late into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, James Madison capitalized on a bad snap and blocked Thomas Hibbard’s punt, and the Dukes had prime field position for the first time since kickoff.
From the 40 yard line, JMU quarterback Justin Thorpe fueled three plays in just more than a minute, putting the Dukes on the board after a 41-yard bomb found wide receiver Daniel Brown in the end zone.
The Tar Heels answered with a 67-yard drive culminating in Bernard’s second rushing touchdown of the day, a 14-yard dash up the middle to put UNC up 28-7 at the half.
Bernard’s explosive agility landed him nine carries and two touchdowns in his UNC debut. He was Renner’s No. 2 rushing target of the afternoon, behind Houston.
“He’s a fanatical back that hides behind the line,” Houston said. “He’s only four-foot nothing so people are like ‘Where the running back at?’”
Bernard attributed his height as a blessing from his parents.
“I’m a little height challenged,” he said. “And I run a little bit lower than other guys my height. It’s special.”
At the end of the third quarter, JMU managed to get a few more points on the board.
Back-to-back sacks of Thorpe forced James Madison kicker Cameron Starke onto the field to attempt a 31-yard field goal. Starke’s kick went sailing through the uprights, bringing the game to a three-possession margin.
With 22 completions on 23 pass attempts and one interception, Renner finished the day with 277 yards.
He tied the UNC record for consecutive completed pass attempts in a single game with 14 and missed the NCAA record for completion percentage by 0.1 percent.
Interim Coach Everett Withers was pleased with his quarterback’s debut performance and said he is excited that Renner will lead the team this season.
“I look forward to the next time I get to run out and shake someone’s hand who loses against us,” he said.
At Withers’ request, the team is painting the game ball for former head coach Butch Davis, who played a key role in recruiting and building the current UNC squad. Davis was among the attendees in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
“It’s hard to keep an old coach away from a good ball game,” Withers said. “For him to be here today was an honor for me.”
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