Can State Stop Bernard?

No one has been able to stop Gio Bernard this season. NC State has to if they are going to defeat North Carolina, and Wolfpack defensive coordinator Mike Archer, who recruited Bernard out of St. Aquinas (FL) High School, knows just how talented he is.

No one has been able to stop Gio Bernard this season. NC State has to if they are going to defeat North Carolina, and Wolfpack defensive coordinator Mike Archer, who recruited Bernard out of St. Aquinas (FL) High School, knows just how talented he is.

"He's a complete back," Archer said of Bernard. "He's been that way... he was that way in high school... we evaluated him in high school.

"He's very important to their offense... since he's been back [from injury], you can see their offense has taken off."

Bernard missed two games early in the season with a knee injury and the Heels were 1-2. He returned versus East Carolina and has led UNC to four victories in five contests. Over that stretch he has 702 yards rushing and seven touchdowns with another 214 yards receiving and two scores.

Playing in North Carolina's spread offense, Bernard is a dangerous weapon who impacts on the ground, through the air, and even on special teams.

"They use him in everything," said Archer. "He's a very quick, north-south guy, he's very hard to get off of his feet, and they use him in all phases of the game.

"They use him in the screen game, they use him in the check downs, he blocks in the blitzes... they're not going to take him out."

What could help the Wolfpack is they've already faced several talented runners this season. Miami has a pair in Duke Johnson and Mike James, and Florida State's Chris Thompson is a small, explosive back who is very similar to Bernard.

"The two guys at Miami, Johnson and James, were similar," said Archer. "James is a little bit bigger, Johnson is similar in size. Gio is hard to see. He reminds me a lot of the Thompson kid from Florida State that just got hurt."

Eric Ebron Is "A Matchup Problem"
If Gio Bernard is the No. priority for NC State's defense, Carolina sophomore tight end Eric Ebron might be No. 2. Ebron has already set the single-season receiving yards record for a tight end and has really emerged lately, as he has 12 catches for 155 yards in his past two games.

"He's a very talented tight end," said Archer. "He's really a big, strong guy and they'll flex him out as a receiver. It's a four-wide look... he's to the field as much as he is in to the boundary."

Senior wideout Eric Highsmith leads the Tar Heels in receptions with 39, but Ebron is right behind him with 31 for 467 yards and three scores. Archer believes that Ebron could be UNC's go-to playmaker in the passing game.

"He looks like he is the go-to guy," said Archer. "He's very strong, he goes after you and attacks the ball. If it's in his area, he's going to come down with the ball.

"So, it's a matchup problem for everybody that has tried to played them, in man or zone. They're going to try to isolate him on a linebacker, so it's going to be a situation where we have to do a good job on him."

Burris Making Strides
The emergence of redshirt freshman Juston Burris has impacted State's defensive scheme, as his development at boundary cornerback has allowed Archer to slide starting corner Dontae Johnson inside to the slot in a variety of packages.

A terrific blitzer and sound tackler in space, Johnson can matchup with wide receivers and tight ends and in the slot the Pack can really take advantage of his skillset.

"Juston is young and Juston is typical of playing his first year at this level," said Archer. "He has good moments and bad moments. The Florida State was probably his best game, and on Saturday he had some moments where he played well, and then there were other times where he didn't play well."

I think, young players, and in particular redshirt freshmen, every game is a learning experience. Hopefully he learned from last week. Situations in the game, based on passing situations, running situations, and what they were trying to do to attack him. That's what you hope, and hopefully he'll continue to get better.

Burris has seen his snap count increase in each of the previous four games. He played just three snaps against Citadel and followed that with 17 and 36 against Miami and Florida State respectively.

Coming out of the bye week, it seems the staff really wanted to get him on the field more. He played a career-high 64 snaps at Maryland, finishing with four tackles and a critical pass breakup on a halfback pass that prevented a touchdown in the first quarter.

"He stayed home on the halfback pass," said Archer of the pass breakup. "We had repped that a couple of times and said that there was an opportunity that they would do it in the red zone, and they did.

"He's a very coachable kid. He listens and you just hope that he continues to grow."


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