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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 28, 12:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Kenan Stadium (63,000) -- Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Television: ACC Network. Home Record: ECU 2-1, UNC 1-0. Away Record: ECU 0-0, UNC 0-2. Neutral Record: ECU 0-0, UNC 0-0. Conference Record: ECU 1-0, UNC 0-1. Series Record: North Carolina leads, 12-2-1.
GAME NOTES: The East Carolina Pirates will begin a three-game road trip with a visit to Kenan Stadium for a bout with their in-state rival North Carolina Tar Heels.
ECU opened up its campaign with back-to-back wins over Old Dominion (52-38) and Florida Atlantic (31-13) to improve to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in Conference USA action. The Pirates came up short in week three and were defeated, 15-10, in a non-conference matchup with Virginia Tech at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
UNC dropped to 1-2 last week as it blew a 20-7 second quarter lead and lost 28-20 at Georgia Tech in its ACC opener. The Tar Heels began their season with a 27-10 setback to South Carolina but coasted to a 40-20 win over Middle Tennessee the following week in their only home game to date. The home field advantage has been very helpful for Larry Fedora's squad recently. The Tar Heels are averaging 47.6 points per game at Kenan Stadium since 2012 and 25.1 ppg on the road.
The Tar Heels own a 12-2-1 all-time series edge over the Pirates. This is the fifth consecutive season that UNC has played ECU, which is in its last season as a member of Conference USA. The Tar Heels have won the previous four matchups, including last year's 27-6 contest in Chapel Hill.
Coach Ruffin McNeil's Pirates are 1-1 versus non-conference foes this season. ECU has finished with a 1-3 record against its non-league opponents in each of the past four years.
The Pirates showed they have the talent to compete with anyone their last time out as they came out of the gate strong against Virginia Tech and moved the ball at will on its 75-yard opening drive that resulted in a touchdown on the fifth play. ECU lost all its momentum for good after that and finished the game with a season-low 204 yards of total offense. Shane Carden was picked off three times as he completed 19-of-31 pass attempts for 158 yards and a touchdown in what was one of his worst performances as a starter. The junior quarterback's poor showing came after he lit up the scoreboard with seven touchdown passes and 638 yards on 63-of-79 efficiency in the team's first two games.
Justin Hardy enters Saturday having made at least three catches in each of his first 26 career games. The speedy junior wideout was the focal point of Virginia Tech's defensive gameplan in his last outing, but he still managed to make six grabs for 36 yards. He has tallied 263 yards on 26 receptions through three games. Freshman wideout Davon Grayson has also been a big factor in the passing game with his four TD catches.
Senior tailback Vintavious Cooper surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in 2012, but he has been less effective this season with only 161 yards on 50 carries. Cooper is doing a good job as a receiver out of the backfield with 12 catches and 115 yards, both second best on ECU to Hardy.
The Pirates have impressed on the defensive side of the ball in 2013 with allowed averages of 22 points and 351 yards of total offense per game. ECU limited the Hokies to 53 rushing yards on 34 carries (1.6 yards per attempt), but could not contain Logan Thomas, who passed for 258 yards (25-for-43 with an interception) and two touchdowns. Derrell Johnson recorded a season-high 12 tackles in the loss. He leads the team with 24 stops on the season, while Brandon Williams (23 tackles, three TFL) and Damon Magazu (22 tackles, one fumble recovery) are close behind.
ECU will have its hands full as it tries to contain another talented ACC QB in Bryn Renner. The Tar Heels' signal caller didn't have his best outing last week versus the Yellow Jackets, yet still finished with 218 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-29 passing. He is third this season in the ACC in passing yards per game at 250.3.
UNC has the most productive tight end in the ACC in Eric Ebron, who has racked up 200 yards and a score on 13 receptions. Junior wideout Sean Tapley made his first touchdown grab of the season versus Georgia Tech and is the second- leading receiver on the team with 130 yards on eight grabs. UNC announced tight end Jack Tabb was suspended for two games prior to the ACC opener which means he will be unavailable for Saturday.
Romar Morris rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries last week in Atlanta. Due to the early departure of standout Giovani Bernard to the NFL, the sophomore Morris has become the new feature back and leads the team with 36 rushes for 168 yards (4.7 ypc) and three rushing touchdowns.
The Tar Heels could not stop the Yellow Jackets' running attack and allowed 324 yards on the ground in their recent setback. On the season, they are giving up averages of 412 yards of total offense and 25 points per contest. Kareem Martin stands out for UNC's defensive unit. He has registered 20 total stops, including two tackles for loss and a sack already.
Virginia Tech recorded seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss to frustrate ECU's attack. Martin could have similar success against the Pirates' apparently weak offensive line. McNeil's team nearly pulled off the upset of the Hokies and had plenty of time to let the loss set in. ECU will not be a cakewalk for the Tar Heels like it was in last year's encounter.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Carolina 27, East Carolina 21
09/25 10:31:41 ET