Pirates to face off with Tar HeelsPublished 6:28pm Friday, September 21, 2012
GREENVILLE — East Carolina will take on North Carolina today at 3:30 p.m. inside Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, that we know to be fact. Exactly which Pirates and Tar Heels teams show up for today’s game is anybody’s guess.
Both ECU and UNC are coming off of schizophrenic Week 3 games as the Pirates trailed 7-3 against Southern Miss before a second-half surge carried them to a 24-14 victory, while the Tar Heels rallied from a 36-7 halftime deficit against No. 19 Louisville but could not complete the comeback and lost a 39-34 heartbreaker.
With sophomore QB Shane Carden making the first start of his career, the ECU offense struggled early against the Golden Eagles and punted on its first seven possessions. Carden would settle down in the second half as he threw for a 55-yard TD pass and ran for an 8-yard score.
The Pirates’ signal-caller would finish the game going 13 of 27 for 177 yards. Not overly impressive numbers, however, he did not turn the ball over and right now that’s the biggest thing ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley are looking for in their starting quarterback.
“Shane is player that has waited for his opportunity and I thought he made good decisions in his first start,” McNeill said. “I feel as if he will get better and more comfortable as he gets more game reps. I thought he handled his first start well and was very poised.”
Carden was aided greatly by an East Carolina defense that turned up the heat on USM true freshman quarterback Anthony Alford and the Eagles offense as it racked up five sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and one interception while forcing and recovering two fumbles, one of which was returned 16 yards for a score by Montese Overton.
“Great pass coverage equals great pass rush and great pass rush equals great pass coverage. The two areas go hand and hand,” McNeill said. “I thought our defensive line and our linebackers did a great job of running their blitzes and stunts and staying in their lanes against the USM quarterbacks.”
The Pirates’ defense will look to duplicate that effort against UNC’s new spread offense, which is the brainchild of first-year coach Larry Fedora. The Pirates should be very familiar with Fedora’s tactics as he coached at Southern Miss for the past four seasons.
Offensively, the Tar Heels are led by 6-3, 215-pound junior QB Bryn Renner, who threw for 363 yards and tied a school-record with five TD passes in their loss to Louisville.
Renner was solid in the two team’s previous meeting, a 35-20 UNC victory in Greenville last year, as he threw for 230 yards and four TD passes.
“Bryn is good quarterback that was a difference maker against us last year,” McNeill said. “He is still learning a new offense, but he has the ability to grasp and excel in it.”
The two teams have played each other a total of 14 times with the Heels holding an 11-2-1 all-time record versus the Pirates.
Renner is considered more of a traditional pocket passer and it is imperative that the ECU defense continues to bring the heat.
Renner will be protected by a mammoth offensive line that returns four starters from last year and is arguably the strength of the team. The unit is led by left guard Jonathan Cooper and averages 6-5, 306 pounds from tackle to tackle.
Tar Heels’ super sophomore RB Giovani Bernard is questionable for today’s game with a knee injury and did not practice this week. Freshman Romar Morris (146 yards) and sophomore A.J. Blue (188 yards) have more than picked up the slack in his absence.
East Carolina is still searching for answers in its running game as its 91.7 rushing yards per game ranks 113th nationally.
The Pirates’ offense will look to continue to ride the hot hands of sophomore WR Justin Hardy, who leads the team with 19 receptions for 241 yards and three TDs.
For the second week in a row the Pirates will a 4-2-5 defense, and the Heels’ unit is led by NFL prospects LB Kevin Reddick and DT Sylvester Willliams.