Bryn Renner denied he frequently bolts upright in a cold sweat from nightmares of decapitating tackles by Jadeveon Clowney.
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora insisted his team — especially quarterback Renner — cannot let one player beat them when the Tar Heels open the season at South Carolina.
“He’s an unbelievable player, one of the most natural athletes I’ve seen playing on a football field,” Renner said during the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C., last week.
“But I’ve played against guys like Robert Quinn, Quin Coples and Marvin Austin (two first-round NFL picks and one second-round). I was actually on the scout team against those guys, and they were hitting me pretty hard when I was a freshman, a rookie, when I weighed 175 pounds.”
There are sound methods to prepare for a player of Clowney’s skill, Fedora said.
“I don’t think you can alter your entire offense,” he said in a radio interview. “At the same time, you’ve got to understand the guy’s a great player. The guy is going to make some plays. So you can’t let that worry you. You can’t let that beat you.”
It will be Renner’s first game against an SEC team.
“We want to embrace the opportunity,” he said. “Not many teams can say they’ll kick off the college football season against a top 10 team at their stadium, so we’re excited.”
Defensive end Kareem Martin played against LSU as a freshman.
“It’s definitely going to set the course for our season,” Martin said. “If we win this game, it could just propel us to a national spotlight and bring up the brand of UNC football to where we know it should be. It’s more than just one win or loss riding on this game.”
Martin, with 15½ tackles for loss last season, including four sacks, said he’s spent a good deal of time looking at clips of the South Carolina offense from last season, knowing that coach Steve Spurrier probably will come into the game with an ace or two up his sleeve that won’t be seen on video.
“We haven’t started a game plan but I’m just trying to learn, myself, what their weaknesses may be and what works against them,” he said. “It’s tough playing any team first because you don’t have any new film, and so much can change from year to year.”
The son of a coach, Renner should be better his second season in the offense. As a junior, he completed 276 of 422 passes for 3,356 yards and 28 touchdowns. He threw seven interceptions.
“He can make all the throws,” Fedora said. “He’s making good decisions. Now, it’s about managing our offense, about managing our football team. It’s understanding when do I need to thread that needle? When do I need to force that ball? And when is it OK to punt?
“As he learns that — when to make those decisions — he’s going to be a great quarterback. That’s what I am anticipating.”
Fedora believes Renner “can take this offense where it has never been before.”
“We want to go as fast as possible,” Renner said, estimating 75-80 plays a game. After averaging 85 last season, Clemson wants to push it to more than 90.
“That’s where the game’s evolving,” Renner said, alluding to Alabama coach Nick Saban’s disgruntled opinion.
“He’s not a big fan, but I think it’s awesome for college football.”
Martin said he’d be foolish to deny Clowney’s ability, but he too pointed out the quality of defensive linemen Renner has practiced against for four years.
“He’s been playing against first-rounders since he’s been here,” Martin said. “And I have a lot of confidence in our line, (left tackle) James Hurst especially.”
“I’ve got James Hurst at left tackle, and he’s been with me for three years,” he said. “My mom trusts him. So do I.”