UNC’s Ryan Switzer Named CFPA Punt Returner of the Year

CHAPEL HILL– Tar Heel football freshman sensation Ryan Switzer has been named the College Football Performance Award Punt Returner of the Year.

In 2013, Switzer led the NCAA with five punt return touchdowns and set the single-season school record with a 20.9 punt return average.

Switzer joins two other Tar Heels who have earned a CFPA award. Giovani Bernard won the punt returning honor in 2012 while Zach Brown was named the linebacker of the year in 2011.

Recipients of the College Football Performance Awards are picked exclusively on objective scientific rankings.


Go Gio, Go! Tar Heel Star Continues to ‘Wow’ in NFL

Photo courtesy of Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Photo courtesy of Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports


A year ago, UNC running back Giovani Bernard delivered one of the most memorable Tar Heel football moments in recent history, maybe ever.

Yes, his electric punt return for a touchdown to push Carolina past NC State was a sight to behold. All who witnessed the events will tuck the memory away in one of their most cherished recollections, unless of course, you are a State fan.

But what is Gio authoring as an encore on this anniversary of  ‘ The Return ‘ ?  Well, he’s doing what Gio knows how to do best-find the end zone with cannonball-like power and athleticism.

Oh how Tar Heel nation envies the Cincinnati Bengals’ situation. Gio is now theirs. Just think if he had returned to don a Carolina blue uniform this season? Think things may have turned out a bit differently? But alas, Gio is in orange these days.

But everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to watch Gio’s magic Thursday night!

Click here and enjoy!


Power Shift

The 5-0 streak is over and the 1-0 streak has begun!  We owe this win and euphoria in large part to one of the greatest plays in Carolina football history.  When Gio Bernard returned that punt 74 yards with 13 seconds remaining to lift the Tar Heels to victory, it was one of the most memorable games since the 2004 upset of the #4 Miami Hurricanes at Kenan Stadium.


This piece will not be about the game which my fellow columnists have done such a good job of covering but rather I want to use this space to evaluate certain issues from a different and more critical angle.  First of all, I was shocked and befuddled to find out that the News and Observer (or as many Carolina fans know it as the “Red Coat”)  reported Sunday morning that the Tar Heels won the contest and even had it covered on the front page of the sport section.  I also was astounded to see that Carlton Tudor, usual public enemy #1 of the UNC Football Program (besides of course Dan Kane — don’t even get me started on that guy) wrote a halfway complimentary piece about Gio Bernard.


Tudor giving props to the Heels is about as difficult for him as listening to nails on a chalkboard.  The win on Saturday over the little brother Wolfpack was a defining moment for the Seniors as well as all of the current players, Coach Fedora as well as the entire coaching staff and former letterman as well as the entire Carolina nation.  And let’s remember that the University of North Carolina and the Chapel Hill community as a whole have been put under attack by the Raleigh Media (mainly the N&O and its lackeys) for the last 2 1/2 years.  A lot of the scrutiny has been brought on by our own doing and poor handling of academic and institutional matters — no escaping responsibility and accountability here — but this win was a great swipe at the face of NC State and the N&O and it was done in memorable style!!


Now onto the leader of the Pack, Coach Tom O’Brien who, to his credit, has been a thorn in the side of Carolina fans and our football program for the last five years.  From many sources in Raleigh close to the NC State athletic program, by losing to Carolina and falling out of the mix to win the Atlantic Division and go to the ACC Championship game, TOB will be given the pink slip at the end of the season.  NC State Athletic Director Debbie Yow, does not have a good standing relationship with Coach O’Brien based on several printed reports, and has been feeling the heat from boosters and leaders within the State community to show TOB the door.  Below is an email from the PackPride message boards which was posted on Yow’s behalf in regards to the outrage after the loss to the Flagship school of North Carolina as Wolfpack fans call for Coach O’Brien’s head.


(A letter from Debbie Yow – NC State Athletic Director after receiving emails from furious NC State boosters after the loss to UNC)

I am writing a group email this morning to those who have expressed their concerns about the loss to UNC-CH. There were a couple of issues expressed by several of you that I will respond to as best I can below:

(1.) IN GAME DECISIONS: ADs do express opinions and ask questions in private to their Head Coach about game decisions/strategies that do not work well, but it would be highly unusual for an AD to publicly criticize any strategy employed during a game. I agree with that philosophy of communication…no matter which sport it might be.

(2.) SPECIAL YEAR: I am aware that this was anticipated to be a special year for us, with the possibility of playing in Charlotte the first weekend in December for the ACC Championship. That appears to be out of reach now with the loss to UNC-CH. As unsatisfactory as it might seem to you today, the only comment I have at this time is that I continue to remain focused on doing whatever I can to support the efforts of this team and staff. Our young men played a gritty and determined game against UNC-CH in an extremely hostile environment and I want them to know that their fighting spirit as our student athletes is truly appreciated.

I acknowledge and regret the considerable disappointment you feel. The majority of you communicate your issues with respect and class. Thank you for that, as well. I hope to see you in Carter Finley for our Homecoming game against Virginia.

In the spirit of the Pack,

Debbie Y.

Did you guys enjoy reading that as much as I did?  Nothing like some NC State in-fighting and back pedaling to feed the UNC soul.  Hopefully, this is just the beginning as Ms. Yow fluctuates back and forth as to whether to fire or not fire.  Instability is never good for a program and we at UNC will benefit.

I wanted to also share with Carolina fans a quote that Coach O’Brien shared after the game that might have been the first domino to fall in the last few months of him being the head coach in Raleigh.


TOB: “It hurt these kids to lose to UNC. The thing is, that game has the feel of a rivalry game now. We gotta win next year”


First and foremost coach, I do agree with you for certain on one thing: that game HAD to hurt! Second, yes the game is becoming a rivalry in some ways but don’t lose sight of the fact that overall, UNC holds a 64-32-6 record so the Pack still has a lot of ground to cover.  Lastly, coach, I personally believe you will not be around to be a part of the game next year, so understand that there is a new Sheriff in town in this rivalry and your bubble gum slogan “This is our State” is about as done as you are.



Smart. Fast. Physical.   Gio for Heisman!


Art's Angle: Little Big Man

Gio is Gio and a win is a win.

Fortunately for the Tar Heels, those two things have to go hand in hand to pull out a beautifully ugly 18-14 victory over Miami for the first road W of the Larry Fedora era.

Carolina did a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong, but only a team with moxie pulls one out when it was there for the losing. Nearly 500 yards of total offense and only 18 points is generally a formula for many mistakes. Take your pick.

Two failed field goals and one interception in the red zone. A second straight game with 15 penalties, this one for more than 150 yards that included consecutive 12-men on the field flags. When it figured out you can only play with 11, the defense warped and bent but, thank goodness, did not break.

Most of all thanks to the human bowling ball known as Giovani Bernard, who finished like he started on his way to 177 yards rushing, 36 receiving and 26 returning.

The biggest mystery surrounding Bernard’s homecoming to Fort Lauderdale, where he starred for St. Thomas Aquinas High School, is how the hell he ever got out of Florida without signing with Miami, Florida, Florida State, Central Florida, South Florida, Florida International or Florida Atlantic? Well, you get the point.

Rumor has it the bigger of those schools thought he was too small. A 5-10, 205-pound all-purpose stud who is Ray Rice small, Emmitt Smith small, more than 500 yards in the last two games small. All those recruiters and recruiting coordinators who still have jobs in the Sunshine State are saying today, “Not me, coach, he wasn’t my responsibility.”

Fedora should send a thank you note to Butch Davis and his staff for snagging this bullet train, among other talented players that are flourishing in the new system.

Seemingly, the only thing Bernard lacks halfway through his second season at Carolina is a nickname that’s even cooler than his abbreviated first name. Go-Go? Bam-Bam? The new Choo Choo?

Bernard scored both of Carolina’s touchdowns, picking his hole and then blasting through it to the end zone. The first one set the tone for what looked like a blowout on the beach before the Tar Heels began blowing opportunities to do so. The second one gave the guys in all white the lead they kept for good, precariously protected by Bernard’s last-drive yardage that put Miami into the Hail Mary mode.

Carolina’s secondary gave up 235 passing, mostly to wildly erratic quarterback Stephen Morris, but the DBs kept the Miami receivers in front of them and forced long drives. That’s not the Hurricanes’ MO. The Heels, on the other hand, love lopping off large chunks of yardage quickly, trying to tire out the defense. Bernard is a brilliant weapon in such an attack.

Gio’s golden moment was a drive-sustaining shoe-top catch of Bryn Renner’s lob that only someone so small with such hands of glue could snag off the grass and control while he rolled over twice. With a fresh set of downs, Carolina needed only one snap as Bernard bolted 17 yards for the lead, which became eight when punter Tommy Hibbard caught the ‘Canes napping before the point-after team shifted over.

Hibbard’s two-point pass to Eric Ebron provided a lead that Miami could not match when its own trick play for a tie was slapped with a delay-of-game penalty. The Canes kicked to get within one, the closest they ever were in dropping to 4-3 and 3-1 in the ACC.

It didn’t work last week, but maybe when the Tar Heels prepare for Duke. Fedora had plenty to bitch on following the fabulous offensive display against Virginia Tech, like those 15 penalties, special team gaffes and defensive lapses. He’ll have even more to ride them about this week.

But bottom line, thanks to gyrating Gio, is that Carolina is 5-2 overall and near the top (2-1) of the ACC Coastal Division they cannot win.  Their next two games will also determine the so-called state championship that they CAN win if only they will celebrate it.

When you have so little to play for, it’s a good thing you have a too-small back to lead the way.


Hokie Smoked!

There’s a lot to make fun of about Virginia Tech. The Hokies have never won a National Championship in a varsity sport. They selected a hideous color scheme that was only chosen because no other team had it (or would ever want it, quite frankly). Cows outnumber people on their campus, and the number of traffic lights in Blacksburg can be counted on your fingers, which is good since Tech students might not be able to do it any other way. Their mascot is a turkey, for goodness’ sake.

Despite these shortcomings, one thing that the Hokies get absolutely, positively right is the atmosphere on football gamedays. Lane Stadium is, objectively, one of the best places to watch a football game in the country. Everyone knows to wear that ugly Chicago maroon and burnt orange. Everyone knows how to do the annoying cheers, and they do them in unison. That stupid turkey mascot looks like he (or she) would run through a brick wall if it meant that the Hokies would win. Though they may be self-righteous occasionally, the fans in Blacksburg are generally respectful of their opponents and care deeply about their own team. Frank Beamer usually fields one of the best squads in the ACC, and the level of fan commitment, though not the only factor, has played no small part in Tech’s recent 7-1 run against Carolina since joining the conference in 2004.

This weekend, though, the script was flipped. Kenan Stadium was absolutely rocking leading up to kickoff. The fans were fully invested, with nearly everyone donning the appropriate colored shirt or paint to create a well-executed “White-Out.” My friends were all excited for the game, even the ones that claimed not to care about football at all.  Say what you want about home-field advantage, but I feel confident that the raucous atmosphere played a big role in the Tar Heels’ relatively easy 48-34 win; Coach Fedora seemed to agree, pointing up at the student section with a big grin on his face as he walked into the tunnel following the game.

Perhaps the Hokies are simply having a down year, which seems likely given their earlier shellackings at the hands of Pitt and Cincinnati. Still, UNC put up some historic offensive numbers against VT. The 48 points the Heels scored were the most that Virginia Tech has allowed since joining the ACC. Virginia Tech gave up 339 rushing yards on Saturday, which is the most accumulated against them by an opponent that doesn’t run the option since Beamer became head coach in 1987. Gio Bernard personally gained 262 yards on 22 carries, which is more than any individual had ever racked up against the Hokies. Not even Tech’s traditionally strong special teams were spared, as Sean Tapley scored Carolina’s first touchdown of the game on a 94-yard kickoff return; it was the first kick-return touchdown allowed by Tech since 1993, breaking the longest active streak in the country.

The most amazing part of the performance by the Tar Heels was that it could have been even better. UNC was sloppy at times on both sides of the ball, getting called for 15 penalties for 126 yards. The defense allowed several big plays, including a 49-yard touchdown pass over the top to Marcus Davis on a mediocre double-move. Gio Bernard, brilliant otherwise, muffed a punt near halftime and allowed Virginia Tech to mount a late drive. The Hokies were able to run back a kickoff for a touchdown because of some poor tackling by the UNC special teams, which cut the lead down to nine midway through the third quarter. The defensive line struggled at times to get pressure on Logan Thomas, though the referees were less than stellar and failed to call obvious holds on several plays. Ultimately, though, the defense forced a couple big turnovers (Tim Scott’s interception and Travis Hughes’ strip of Michael Holmes) and ensured that the offense’s incredible effort did not go to waste.

The Fedora Formula is simple: Effective Spread Offense + Key Defensive Plays + Loud Crowd = Victory. Against Virginia Tech, the Heels finally plugged all the pieces into the equation, and the resulting win serves as proof that when executing properly for four quarters, UNC can play with anyone. Can we do it consistently? Well, that remains to be seen.


Answering the Bell

In a segment that was created by Holden Productions Group at the 2:18 mark of the clip, Coach Larry Fedora beats the drum to his young Tar Heel team. “The success of the team depends on me…”   Then it builds and gets louder.  “The success of the team depends on me…” and with a final cry, repeat after me “The success of the team depends on me…”

Who is he talking to?  The starters?  The offense? The defense? The fans?  Himself?  Try all of the above.  Like any company or organization, a football team needs buy in from the top on down and back up again.  And we finally got to see some of that buy in last Saturday afternoon.  With a loud home crowd behind them, the Tar Heels decided to uphold their end of the bargain and gave Tar Heel Nation 60 minutes of effort, 60 minutes of enthusiasm, 60 minutes of dependability – “The success of the team depends on me….”
Welcome back star tailback Gio Bernard who made two different trips into the end zone, well done quarterback Bryn Renner who offered up another strong performance and hats off to our aggressive, shark-feeding defense which played at a frenzy pace all afternoon recording seven sacks, five in the 3rd quarter alone.  It was a long day for Ruffin McNeil and his Purple Pirates and frankly that’s the way we like it. 

Clearly there is still room for improvement as we look to put consistent plays, drives and halves together but this was our best showing of the season thus far against FBS competition and something that this program desperately needed.  I think that most fans that were sitting in Kenan or watching on the “U” were waiting to see if we were going to slip that cleat on and tie it up or it if was going to drop.  Again, if you reference that segment clip, Coach Fedora clearly puts it, “The success of the team depends on me” and that means everyone.   

Kenan Stadium for the most part was abuzz due to the tension that an in-state rivalry offers.  Granted, we are North Carolina’s flagship school but we have to give kudos to the little Pirates down the road whose fans gobbling up all of their 3,500 ticket allotment and then some.  Remember fellow fans, we need to support this team through thick and thin, and not lose our passion after two L’s.  “The success of the team depends on me…”
The fans who were at Kenan were fantastic and there needs to be special recognition brought to the Tar Pit.  Having a special view from the field for warm-ups (lettermen get to help build the tunnel of people that the players run through on lettermen weekend), I got a renewed feeling of the energy and excitement that our student section brings to the program.  With the renovations that were made in 2008 in the student section end zone, it has allowed the players and students more interaction with energy and excitement passing from the stands to the field and back again. 

When Casey Barth kicked his final warm-up field goal through the pipes that a Tar Pitter caught, several Tar Heel players ran and jumped into the stands with body painted students and classmates that are 100% in their corner, and the tone was set for a game that would put two tough weeks on the road behind us. 

From there, the students cheered on the players as they went in for the final 10 minutes of preparation before they came out for the kickoff which got them back on track and “Answer the Bell.”  This is the kind of culture change from our fan base that I believe helped us to be successful on Saturday and will only continue to grow with the leadership we have in place.  “The success of the team depends on me.”  The success of the team depends on us all.

Smart. Fast. Physical.