UNC Welcomes ECU
By Stuart Barefoot
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UNC is on a two-game losing streak, but has a great chance for redemption this weekend.
You can always go home, and the Tar Heels will do that on Saturday when they face ECU at Kenan Stadium for their first of three home games in a row. After losing to both Wake Forest and Louisville on the road to fall to 1-2 this season, North Carolina will begin trying to salvage the season against an in-state rival.
Both UNC losses were close. In both of their losses, the Tar Heels missed scoring opportunities in the red zone. They’ve lost by a combined six points in their two defeats, without one on the nation’s top running backs, which may help put a 1-2 record in perspective. That brings up the big question on people’s mind: Will Gio Bernard play this Saturday? The answer to that question remains the same, “no one outside of UNC knows.” When it comes to injury reports, Larry Fedora is like one of those lawyers “I can neither decline nor confirm that at this time.” We’ll know once the games starts. What is certain is how bad they need him. As a team, they rushed for 47 yards against Louisville. Granted, Bryn Renner passed really well, throwing five touchdowns to just one interception, but an effective running game is a big part of that balanced offensive attack we have heard so much about.
UNC has had another weapon on offense emerge and that’s Romar Morris. To add another layer of confusion to an odd Louisville game, the freshman TB was named the ACC Receiver of the Week. Morris caught five passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. He also blocked a punt that eventually led to a UNC touchdown; truly a renaissance man.
For the UNC defense, it’s hard to know what to think. On one hand, Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinal offense embarrassed them during the first half, scoring 36 points. On the other, they only gave up three points in the second half to a Top-25 team on the road. A box score alone will tell you that they can be very good, or they can be poor. It just depends.
As far as their opposition goes, ECU is coming off a 24-14 win over a winless Southern Miss team. For the season, the Pirates are 2-1, having beat App State 35-13 before being destroyed by South Carolina 48-10. Leading the offense will be sophomore QB Shane Carden, who notched his fist win against Southern Miss. He replaced Rio Johnson during the disastrous lost to South Carolina, and has been somewhat stable for the Pirates since. He was 13-of-27 last week, with a 55-yard touchdown pass and no picks. Based on that stat line, he is okay, but can be managed by the Tar Heel defense that has had its hands full with two darn good QB’s the last two weeks.
Other guys on the ECU offense who may cause problems for Carolina are RB Michael Dobson and WR Justin Hardy. Dobson leads the team with 101 rushing yards, but hasn’t scored yet. In fact, both rushing TD’s have come courtesy of Johnson and Carden. Hardy is a different story; he has three touchdown catches this year and has racked up 241 yards.
The Pirate defense gives up about 25 points per game. In their biggest test all season, they gave up 48 points while the Gamecocks amassed over 500 yards. They seem to be the remote opposite of UNC, in that they count on their defense keeping teams at less than 20 points, which they’ve done twice, and hoping that their offense can provide just enough. That may not be the way they draw it up on paper, but so far, it’s been the only way they can win, as their offense has been extremely mediocre.
Overall, this is a game UNC should win. As we learned from the Wake game, that by no means is a guarantee. Optimistic Carolina fans are hopeful that the UNC team from the second half of the Louisville game will be present for Saturday’s game. If that’s the case, all bets are off.