The last time Giovani Bernard caught the ball on Oct. 27, North Carolina and its in-state rival NC State were tied at 35-35 with 24 seconds remaining in the game.
By the time Bernard finished sprinting down the right sideline, 13 seconds were left and North Carolina had the lead. A minute after Bernard walked on the field to return a punt — despite an ankle injury from the second quarter — his teammates were mobbing him in the end zone.
The Wolfpack allowed North Carolina’s most dynamic player a chance to touch the ball and paid the price.
After the loss, NC State coach Tom O’Brien did not fault his punter for the touchdown return.
“What you want to do is just kick it high in the air and make him fair catch it, which we’d been doing,” O’Brien said. “We had the wind behind us and the wind took it, but still you have to cover and make a tackle.”
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More Conference Notebooks
ACC: Bernard drives UNC offense
Big East: Strong has Louisville eyeing perfection
Big Ten: Indiana relishes chance at title game
Pac-12: Ground game essential in conference
Big 12: Longhorns come out swinging
SEC: Bama withstands test in Death Valley
The return, which was featured on several top plays of the week highlight reels, helped Bernard, the ACC’s leading rusher at 132.9 yards per game, gain recognition and according to some pundits, vaulted him into the Heisman conversation.
While it remains unlikely that he will be a Heisman finalist, Bernard’s play this year has been worthy of praise. Through seven games, Bernard, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound back, had 126 carries for 930 yards and 7.4 yards per carry. He has 10 rushing touchdowns and has scored in every game he’s played in.
Bernard’s impact on the UNC offense is evident when you examine the team’s record. The sophomore missed the team’s losses at Wake Forest and Louisville — two close games in which he could have been the difference — after he injured his knee against Elon.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, the NCAA ruled that North Carolina would not be bowl eligible this season. Despite his spectacular play, Bernard may not get the chance to play in a postseason game with the Tar Heels. His stock for the NFL may never be higher.
“People were talking about it before the season even started,” Bernard said to The Durham Herald-Sun last week of his decision whether he will turn pro. “For me, I’m not going to think about it until after the season. If things look good for me, I may go. I may not.”
Bernard also understands the toll playing running back can take on a body. He tore his ACL on his third day of fall practice and redshirted as a freshman. The next season, he bounced back nicely, running for 1,253 yards. Bernard earned first-team All-ACC honors last year, and will likely be named to the ACC’s first team again after this season.
Bernard will then be faced with the decision to return to school or to try his luck at the professional level. UNC coach Larry Fedora would undoubtedly love to see Bernard return to Chapel Hill, but his performance may make the NFL an option that is too lucrative to turn down.
Complete Conference Standings
Boston College (2-7, 1-5 ACC)
• The good vibrations stemming from the Eagles first conference win vanished after Wake Forest doubled up Boston College 28-14 in Winston-Salem. Junior Alex Amidon, who leads all ACC receivers in receiving yards per game (119.2 yards), turned in another strong performance. Amidon finished with 10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.
• The good news for BC fans is that the Eagles next host Notre Dame. The potentially bad news is that an undefeated Notre Dame team could embarrass BC in prime time. However, a missed field goal prevented Pittsburgh from handing the Fighting Irish their first loss last weekend, so the team may be more beatable than anticipated. Knocking off the Irish would be a monumental win for a BC squad that will not make a bowl game this year.
Next Game: vs. Notre Dame Nov. 10
No. 10 Clemson (8-1, 5-1 ACC)
• The Clemson offense flexed its muscle in a 56-20 win at Duke. Tajh Boyd threw five touchdown passes, tying the school record he set last week. Both coaches — Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Duke’s David Cutcliffe — graduated from Alabama, where Swinney played football and Cutcliffe was a student assistant coach under Bear Bryant.
• Coordinator Brent Venables will have a chance to deploy the Tigers defense creatively against a Maryland offense led by a fifth-string quarterback. It would not be surprising to see the Tigers dare Terrapin quarterback Shawn Perry to move the ball through the air.
Next Game: vs. Maryland Nov. 10
Duke (6-4, 3-3 ACC)
• It’s good Duke beat North Carolina at home for win No. 6, because its schedule got a whole lot tougher. Duke lost consecutive games to Florida State and Clemson by 41 and 36 points, respectively. The Blue Devils are bowl eligible, but still far from challenging the ACC’s best teams.
• The Blue Devils still have a chance to win the Coastal division. If they can defeat Georgia Tech in their next game, then Miami (Fla.) in the regular-season finale, they get the head-to-head advantage and will go to the conference championship game. Duke has an open week before it plays the Yellow Jackets.
Next Game: at Georgia Tech Nov. 17
No. 8 Florida State (8-1, 5-1 ACC)
• After playing nine games, the Noles enjoyed an open date in Week 10. FSU remains in control of the Atlantic division since it knocked off Clemson 49-37 when the teams met in Tallahassee.
• On Thursday, Jimbo Fisher will lead the Seminoles into Blacksburg, Va., the most hostile road environment it will face this season. The FSU kicking game is sharp with Dustin Hopkins, the ACC’s all-time leading scorer, handling the kicking duties.
Next Game: at Virginia Tech Nov. 8
Georgia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC)
• The Yellow Jackets pummeled Maryland 33-13, bouncing back from a demoralizing loss to BYU on homecoming. Georgia Tech led 20-0 at halftime against the Terps and rushed for 370 yards as a team.
• Paul Johnson has split playing time between senior Tevin Washington and Vad Lee at quarterback this season. Johnson is grooming Lee, a redshirt-freshman, to take over the position after Washington departs.
• GT’s defense has improved in recent weeks and limited Maryland to 259 yards on offense. It will need to contain Giovani Bernard, the elusive UNC running back, to slow down the Tar Heels’ attack.
Next Game: at North Carolina Nov. 10
Maryland (4-4, 2-2 ACC)
• A few weeks ago, Shawn Petty was practicing as a linebacker for the Terrapins. Following injuries to the team’s top four quarterbacks, Petty was the player with the most quarterback experience remaining on the roster. Last weekend, he went back under center for the first time since high school.
“The speed of the game was something that it took him a little bit of time to get used to,” coach Randy Edsall said. “You can’t go out there and line up at this level after only seven practices and think that everything is going to happen the way you hope it will.”
• Despite the loss to Georgia Tech, Stefon Diggs continued his stellar freshman campaign. Diggs had two touchdown catches and 220 total yards for Maryland.
• The Terps travel to Memorial Stadium on Saturday, where the Terrapin defense will attempt to stop the explosive Tigers offense. Terp cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson will need to play their best against DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, perhaps the best wide receiver duo in the country.
Next Game: at Clemson Nov. 10
Miami (Fla.) (5-4, 4-2 ACC)
• The Hurricanes took advantage of an area that was once considered Virginia Tech’s strength — special teams. Miami (Fla.) will earn a spot in the conference championship game if it can beat Virginia and Duke in its remaining conference games.
• Miami’s next opponent, Virginia, had its best defensive performance last week against NC State. If the Cavaliers defense can pressure Stephen Morris like it did Mike Glennon (six sacks), it will have a chance to stay competitive with the Hurricanes.
Next Game: at Virginia Nov. 10
NC State (5-3, 2-2 ACC)
• Virginia’s defense had only forced four turnovers before it played NC State last weekend. It forced five against the Wolfpack and held NC State to 197 passing yards. In addition, UVa entered the game with seven sacks on the season and had six against NC State.
• The Wolfpack host the resurgent Demon Deacons this weekend. Both teams are on the precipice of a bowl berth and are jockeying for third place in the Atlantic division behind Florida State and Clemson.
Next Game: vs. Wake Forest Nov. 10
North Carolina (6-3, 3-2 ACC)
• The Tar Heels had their open week fall at a fortuitous time. UNC coach Larry Fedora said he was glad it allowed the team extra time to prepare for the triple-option.
“If you asked every coach, they would all like to have an extra week for Georgia Tech’s offense,” Fedora said last week. “It’s definitely difficult to get ready for and defend in two days on a Tuesday-Wednesday or two days and a week.”
• Even though the Tar Heels are banned from postseason play, Fedora still wants to win the Coastal division.
“Whether or not we’re recognized or not, I mean, it’s still about our football team and what we and what our goals are and what we can accomplish.”
Next Game: vs. Georgia Tech, Nov. 10
Virginia (3-6, 1-4 ACC)
• The Cavaliers won for the first time since Sept. 8, when they beat Penn State 17-16. Virginia’s 33-6 road romp at NC State snapped the team’s six-game losing streak and was its only win against a conference opponent this season. The defense forced five turnovers and sacked Mike Glennon five times. In addition, Phillip Sims rushed for his first career touchdown in the win, a 1-yard score in the first quarter, as he and Michael Rocco alternated at quarterback.
• Coach Mike London said that the extra week off was important for Sims’ development.
“Not only just for Phillip, but the timing aspect of the receivers with him; the voice inflection with the offensive line,” London said. “Just so many different things.”
• The Cavaliers could still become bowl eligible, but will have to win their last three games to do so. The first two conference games are at home, before a season-ending showdown in Blacksburg. If the defense can perform the way it did last weekend, Virginia can compete with the remaining schedule.
Next Game: vs. Miami Nov. 10
Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3 ACC)
• Over the past decade, the Hokies have consistently fielded one of the most formidable teams in college football. The year’s squad, however, represents a down year for VT football. Its 30-12 loss to Miami (Fla.) ensured that the Hokies streak of eight seasons with at least 10 wins was at an end.
• Logan Thomas ran for a career-high 124 yards, but struggled in the passing department. Thomas was 19 for 37 and finished with three turnovers. Virginia Tech can make its 20th consecutive bowl game if it wins two of its final three games. It will be difficult to get a winning streak started again against the top-10 ranked Seminoles.
Next Game: vs. Florida State Nov. 8
Wake Forest (5-4, 3-4 ACC)
• The Demon Deacons are above .500 and sit one win away from bowl eligibility. Quarterback Tanner Price was 39 for 57 with 293 yards. Price connected with wide receiver Michael Campanaro 16 times for three TDs, as Campanaro matched the ACC record for most receptions in a game with the win against Boston College.
“He makes a lot of plays for us,” coach Jim Grobe said of Campanaro, “but I think more than anything, the other 10 guys just feel good when he’s on the field. When he’s out there, there’s just a feeling that something good can happen all the time.”
Next Game: at NC State Nov. 10
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