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October 29, 2011North Carolina proved yet again that every Saturday is a different day in college football.
One week after turning the ball over six times against Clemson and getting whipped before a regional television audience, the Tar Heels forced five Wake Forest turnovers and defeated the Deacons 49-24.
Interim head coach Everett Withers and his players said it was a matter of the team assuming responsibility for their play.
Quarterback Bryn Renner and linebacker Kevin Reddick called a players'-only meeting early in the week to discuss Clemson and make sure they righted their miscues from consecutive losses to the Tigers and Miami.
"I think it shows ownership of the team," Withers said. "The good football teams I've been a part of, the players run. When we left the hotel today, they kicked the coaches out and said, 'We're having a meeting before we get on the bus.'
"To me that shows the growth of the football team. Good teams, the players police the team."
The Tar Heels' record grew to a bowl-eligible 6-3 overall, 2-3 in the ACC, while Wake Forest fell to 5-3, 4-2.
The game was the reverse of the last couple of weeks when UNC turned the ball over and spotted opponents early leads. This time UNC forced consecutive turnovers on Wake Forest's first two possessions and scored touchdowns each time.
Tydreke Powell, who made his first career interception, said the players made turnovers one of the focuses of the practice all week.
"We know how important it is to win the turnover battle after Clemson last week," Powell said. "We talked about it as a defense. Kevin Reddick told us we needed more turnovers, and everybody went out and committed to one another."
There were some exceptional performances by individuals.
Giovani Bernard gained 154 yards on 27 carries. He took some powerful hits, including a helmet-to-helmet blow that left him on the ground for a few moments. But he just kept coming back.
He had two rushing touchdowns and one receiving. He has now rushed for 965 yards this season on 168 carries. His 11 rushing touchdowns are the most by a Tar Heel since Leon Johnson scored 12 in 1995.
"He got drilled a lot of times today," Withers said. "Gio is a special, special player. He's competitor. He's quiet. He just does his job. We never ask these guys to be superman, but Gio has a little something about him."
So does Renner. He completed 21 of 28 passes for a career-high 338 yards and three touchdowns. He did not throw an interception. He also mixed his throws, sometimes looking beneath the coverage with short throws and letting the receiver make the plays.
But he also hit some deep passes with pinpoint accuracy. He has now thrown 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions, better than a 2-1 margin. He has completed 72.7 percent of his pass attempts. In just his first season, he is already tied for second with in school history with touchdowns in a season. Chris Keldorf leads with 23 in 1996.
"I believe it's just a matter of Bryn getting to those [shorter] routes," Withers said. "Those routes have been there all year long. It's a matter of him getting to them and throwing them. It's the maturation process of a young quarterback: You don't have to throw it 80 yards down the field."
Perhaps not, but Renner throws those deep balls with an accuracy that can rival anyone in college football.
As far as the players' meeting, Renner said the team just needed to refocus on being the team they know they can be.
"Ultimately, the players control whether we win games or we lose games," Renner said. "That was the big thing we focused on during our players'-only meeting. Coaches do a great job of coaching us. It falls in our hands to make plays out there on Saturday.
"We didn't make any excuses. We put it on the table. We really came together. We have a tough team. In that meeting, we knew that. We knew we couldn't let Clemson beat us twice. We said that all week, and we had a great week of practice."