Heels Close 1st Year Under Fedora

Heels Close 1st Year Under Fedora

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Larry Fedora saw his North Carolina players adapt well to his no-huddle offense while struggling at times to get stops in a new defensive scheme.

He's going to expect a lot more from his team heading into the offseason - especially now that they're free of the NCAA's postseason ban.

"I'm not satisfied with the progress we made anywhere, actually - offense, defense or special teams," Fedora said after Saturday's 45-38 win against Maryland that capped his first season. "I never will be. Won't be next year, the year after that, the year after that. ... We made progress. Did we make enough? No. Are we going to get better? Yes, we're going to get better."

The Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) have plenty to build on from Fedora's first year.

They won eight games for the second time in three seasons. Their league record would've been good enough to secure the Coastal Division title and an appearance in next week's league championship game. But the Tar Heels were barred from a bowl by NCAA penalties for violations connected to improper benefits and academic misconduct following a probe that launched in summer 2010.

UNC set a single-season record with 487 points, besting the previous mark set in 1993 by 66 points and doing it with one fewer game. The 40.6-point scoring average was also a program record, more than five points higher than that '93 squad (35.1 points).

Three of the Tar Heels' four losses came by five or fewer points this season, though they ended a five-year losing streak to rival North Carolina State.

"We've been in some tough ballgames, some tough losses during the season, but the whole staff did a great job of just implementing their system," quarterback Bryn Renner said. "I think we have things to improve on obviously as every team does, but this momentum we're going to carry into the offseason is going to be huge for us as we continue on."

The most pressing question will be whether star tailback Gio Bernard returns for his junior season or enters the NFL draft. Bernard ran for 1,200 yards for the second straight season and scored 19 touchdowns, including two on punt returns.

Renner set a program record with 28 touchdown passes this year. He'll return for his senior season and be joined by emerging receiver Quinshad Davis - who had 25 catches in the last two games of his freshman year - and tight end Eric Ebron, who set a program record for most single-season receiving yards at the position.

"We've got a year under our belt," Davis said. "We know what to do, we know what the coaches expect and we know we can go out there and make plays and keep the tempo up."

While the offense thrived, the defense was slow to adjust to a 4-2-5 system. North Carolina had two shutouts of overmatched opponents and allowed 14 or fewer points in three other games, but they gave up at least 28 points in seven games - including a 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech that was the highest-scoring game in ACC history.

The Tar Heels will also have to replace veteran leaders like top offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and leading tackler Kevin Reddick at linebacker.

Fedora said the coaching staff will throw itself into recruiting since there will be no bowl practices, while the players look to build on what they learned in their first year with him.

"I think it shows that we're definitely heading in the right direction," Fedora said. "I think we've created a lot of excitement in the program and the state and the surrounding area. I think people understand that the Tar Heels are for real and we're going to be back and we're going to be something that's going to be reckoned with."

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