GAME NOTES: The North Carolina Tar Heels are set to kick off a three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon when the East Carolina Pirates pay a visit to Kenan Stadium.
North Carolina enters the game looking to rebound from last week's 39-34 loss at No. 20 Louisville. In fact, the Tar Heels have dropped two in a row since a season-opening win over Elon, a Football Championship Subdivision. Following this weekend's contest, they'll host Idaho and Virginia Tech over the next two weeks.
East Carolina is looking to build on last week's 24-14 win at Southern Miss. The Pirates' only loss on the year came at nationally-ranked South Carolina two weekends ago. This week's tilt wraps up a three-game road swing.
These two schools are separated by only about 100 miles and will be squaring off for the fourth straight year. The Tar Heels notched a 35-20 win over ECU in Greenville last October, their third straight win in the head-to-head series. UNC leads the all-time series, 11-2-1.
The magic number for the ECU offense is 20, as the Pirates have lost 12 in a row when scoring 20 points or less. Like their counterpart for this game, the Pirates operate out of the spread offense. So far, the results have been less than stellar. Quarterback Shane Carden took over for starter Rio Johnson to start the second half against South Carolina two weeks ago, after Johnson threw two interceptions in the first half. Carden was picked off on his first pass in that game. Johnson came back in, threw an interception four plays later that was returned for a touchdown, and sat for the remainder of the game. Carden had the job to himself last week against Southern Miss and finished with 171 yards and a touchdown, although he completed just 13-of-27 passes. Most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over and ECU won.
With the Pirates leading Southern Miss 17-7 late in the third quarter, outside linebacker Montese Overton scooped up a fumble and returned it 16 yards to the end zone to put ECU ahead comfortably. Overton finished with a team-high 10 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. His TD highlighted a solid day for the Pirates on defense, as they kept Southern Miss off the scoreboard between the 10:17 mark of the first quarter and the 13:47 mark of the fourth. The defense also notched three takeaways, as ECU has won 11 of the last 12 games when forcing at least three turnovers.
After falling behind 36-7 at halftime against Louisville, UNC battled back and actually had a chance to win late in the game. The Tar Heels scored three straight fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull within five with 4:23 to play. After recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, UNC drove to the Louisville 4, but the drive stalled on 4th-and-goal and Louisville ran out the clock. The loss spoiled a big day by UNC quarterback Bryn Renner, who threw for 363 yards and a school-record five TDs. Romar Morris (5 rec, 149 yds) and Eric Ebron (5 rec, 38 yds) each caught two TDs. Through three contests, Renner is averaging 290 yards passing and has tossed an ACC-best nine touchdowns.
The team has been without star tailback Giovani Bernard for the last two games due to a knee injury. His return will provide much-needed offensive balance, although he is listed as questionable for this contest.
The good news for the UNC defense is that it allowed only three points in the second half against nationally-ranked Louisville. The bad news however, is that Louisville put up 36 points in the first half, which was enough to win the game. Louisville scored on its first six possessions, amassing 19 first downs and 360 total yards in the opening half. Whatever speech UNC head coach Larry Fedora gave in the locker room at halftime, he may want to use that as his pre-game speech this week. With the exception of a few big gains, the Tar Heels have been stout against the run as they rank 23rd nationally in run defense (96.3 ypg). If they can shut down running lanes early in this contest, it would force the Pirates to become one-dimensional and perhaps lead to some turnovers.
ECU is looking to improve to 3-1 for only the second time since 2001. To do so, the Pirates will have to snap a six-game road slide against ACC foes dating back to 2006.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Carolina 34, East Carolina 14
09/19 11:39:09 ET
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