Tar Heels, Pirates to meet in Chapel Hill
Larry Fedora is waiting for his North Carolina's offense to find its high-scoring rhythm. East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill is hoping the Pirates' attack can do the same.
The instate rivals meet here Saturday with both teams coming off shaky offensive performances inconsistent with their big-play history.
The Tar Heels (1-2) managed just 62 yards after halftime in a 28-20 loss at Georgia Tech, and have failed to reach the 400-yard mark in two of their first three games. They reached that number in all 12 games last year, setting several program single-season offensive records.
An overhauled offensive line and the loss of tailback Gio Bernard to the NFL has provided some bumpy moments, though Fedora said it's not just one thing causing the problems.
"I think there's a lot of pieces we're not getting in a flow," Fedora said. "You've got to keep moving the chains to get into a flow offensively for everyone involved. From a penalty here to a missed block here to a missed read here, it's always one guy.
"That's the thing on offense: you've got to have all 11. All 11 have got to be doing it at the same time."
Still, McNeill said he is expecting UNC's Bryn Renner-led offense to play at full speed against the Pirates, who have been one of the nation's best against the run (82.3 yards per game) in the first month of the season.
"We want to be prepared for them being fast and ready," he said. "They do a great job of playing fast and they do a great job of executing. We know that. ... It's been knowing what they can do and what they have done and the ability they have."
The Pirates (2-1) had last week off and haven't played since a 15-10 home loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 14. In that game, the Pirates marched 75 yards in 99 seconds for an opening touchdown, then managed 129 yards in the next 58-plus minutes.
Both teams run fast-tempo spread attacks, so the defenses should be ready for this one.
"We see similarities," UNC linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. "They like to spread the ball out just like our offense. Playing against them all spring and fall camp especially, we're well prepared for it."
Here are five things to watch in Saturday's East Carolina-North Carolina matchup:
DEFENSIVE SWITCH: The Tar Heels spent all last week preparing to face Georgia Tech's run-focused triple-option attack. Now they're going back to a more conventional approach to face the Pirates' pass-heavy spread. "It's from one end of the spectrum to the other," Fedora said.
CARDEN REGROUPS: East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden had thrown seven touchdown passes with no interceptions before the Virginia Tech loss. But he threw three picks and took seven sacks in that one. ECU needs Carden back on his game.
GETTING THE BALL ROLLING: Renner has said the Tar Heels just need to get some offensive success, then keep building on that to return to last year's form. It would help to get a couple of big plays from an inconsistent running game, tight end Eric Ebron or receiver Quinshad Davis — who has been relatively quiet in 2013.
HARDY'S INVOLVEMENT: Pirates receiver Justin Hardy is Carden's go-to guy and started the year with a 16-catch performance against Old Dominion. ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley needs to find a way to get Hardy free after he struggled against the Hokies' rugged defense (six catches for 31 yards). He's had 14 catches in two matchups with the Tar Heels, but UNC has minimized the damage by holding him to just 7 yards per grab.
BAD MATCHUP?: Things just haven't gone well for the Pirates in this series. The Tar Heels lead the series 12-2-1, including wins the past four seasons. All four have all come by at least 14 points, including last year's 27-6 win in Chapel Hill led by an uncharacteristically strong defensive performance. The past two in Chapel Hill were close at halftime (14-all in 2010, 10-6 UNC in 2012) only to see the Tar Heels dominate after the break.