CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Bryn Renner threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns in his first start Saturday, helping North Carolina beat James Madison 42-10 to give Everett Withers a successful debut as interim coach.
Renner completed 22 of 23 passes, with his only mistake being an interception on a deep ball in the second quarter. The sophomore completed his first eight passes -- including a 34-yard scoring strike to Dwight Jones to cap the game's opening drive -- and hit on his last 14 to tie a school record for most consecutive completions in a game and ending his day with a 21-yard TD toss to Jones midway through the fourth.
Renner also set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for highest single-game completion percentage (95.7) and finished just shy of the NCAA mark (95.8 percent) set by Tennessee's Tee Martin against South Carolina in 1998. He also had a touchdown on a sneak early in the fourth, a successful start as he replaces graduated four-year starter T.J. Yates.
Withers had spent the past three seasons as defensive coordinator before taking over when the school unexpectedly fired Butch Davis a week before training camp. Chancellor Holden Thorp said there had been too much cumulative damage to the university's reputation amid the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the program, a decision that handed Withers his first head-coaching position in 24 seasons in college and the NFL.
In fact, Withers' debut was eerily similar to Davis' debut four years earlier. That also came against James Madison, with the Tar Heels breaking in a first-time starter in Yates and scoring the first 24 points en route to a 30-7 halftime lead and a 37-14 victory.
This time, the Tar Heels scored the first 21 points and led 28-7 at half when James Madison kicker Cameron Starke plunked the right upright on a 20-yard field goal just before the break.
Afterward, Withers said the team would send a game ball to Davis.
A pair of running backs who missed all last season certainly made things easier on Renner and Withers.
Redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard suffered a knee injury in his third day of practice, while Ryan Houston opted to redshirt after being cleared to return at midseason amid the NCAA probe. While Houston ran for 59 yards and a TD on 16 carries, Bernard's performance was probably more impressive. He showed impressive burst and the patience to let his blocks develop, reaching the end zone on a 12-yard run on his second carry before finishing with 64 yards and two scores on just nine carries.
Justin Thorpe threw for 152 yards and a touchdown for the Dukes in his return from a knee injury in last year's opener that sidelined him the rest of the year. But the Dukes managed just 211 total yards and never came close to repeating last season's road upset of Virginia Tech.