North Carolina’s 2004 trip to Wallace Wade left a lasting impression.
After a lopsided 40-17 victory, the Tar Heels rushed the Victory Bell and immediately began spray-painting its base Carolina blue. The digital scoreboard was hastily extinguished as paint residues were washed from the stadium track. North Carolina’s dominance in the heated rivalry, though, has proved more resistant.
The Tar Heels return to Durham this weekend looking to secure their 12th consecutive win in Wallace Wade and to prevent a darker blue from coating the Bell’s base.
Riding a four-game winning streak and receiving growing attention from national media outlets, North Carolina boasts a dangerous offensive arsenal. The Tar Heel offensive line was recently named the “best in college football” by ESPN experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. Junior offensive tackle James Hurst attributes the unit’s success to experience and cohesion.
“I think a big thing is that we’ve been playing together for a few years now,” Hurst said earlier this week. “Chemistry is a pretty big deal on the O-line.”
Hurst also discussed the front five’s pride in earning national distinction.
“It’s kind of rare for an O-line to get any recognition, but we’re excited about it,” Hurst said.
Perhaps no one is more excited about the O-line’s success than Giovanni Bernard. Carolina’s redshirt sophomore tailback is packing the stat sheet with a little help from the boys up front. Due to a week one knee injury, Bernard saw little action in the Tar Heel’s first three games, but the All-ACC first teamer has still rushed for 652 yards this season and is averaging a whopping 8.3 yards per carry.
Last week’s win against Miami was the first college game Bernard’s busy father had the opportunity to attend in person. The young running back put on a stunning performance for his family and friends, carrying the ball 27 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 36 yards and owns 158 receiving yards with two touchdowns through the air on the season.
“I definitely highlighted that game as a game I wanted to do well in,” Bernard said. “I just wanted to make [my dad] proud and hopefully I did that.”
Another tenacious performance like the one Bernard delivered in Miami could be a game clincher for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina’s passing game provides a formidable complement to the team’s dangerous rushing attack. Quarterback Bryn Renner has thrown for 1,830 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Downfield threats Eric Ebron, Quinshad Davis and Erik Highsmith will prevent the Blue Devil safeties from focusing too exclusively on the backfield.
In addition to their potent offense, the Tar Heels also have a stout defense, which gives up only 17.3 points per game. Although the team has struggled with penalties at times, head coach Larry Fedora is happy with the aggression and enthusiasm his team is displaying.
“There’s going to be some penalties in a game that are due strictly to you being aggressive, you getting after people,” Fedora said in his radio show Tuesday night. “I would much rather have to tone [the players] down than to try to get them going.”
North Carolina is firing on all cylinders. If Duke is not prepared to fight for 60 minutes on both sides of the ball, they may get their bell rung yet again.