Virginia Tech sacked Shane Carden eight times en route to a 15-10 victory in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Stronger protection from the offensive line is one of ECU's definitive keys to securing its first victory in Chapel Hill in over three decades.
"We've got to win our individual battles," said offensive line coach Brandon Jones. "Blitz pick-ups, twist pick-ups, and trying to get into manageable third downs. If it's not third and 13, you're not so one-dimensional."
Quarterback Shane Carden, after looking at the Virginia Tech tape, noted areas of focus as he prepares for UNC. "I'm just looking at the tape, seeing what I can do better," said Carden. "Whether it's check downs, whether it's get the ball out quicker, whether it's checking plays…the last week and today, I think I did a better job with that."
There are personal responsibilities on the field, but the most important factor is how cohesively the offensive line and quarterback function. It comes down to how the unit performs as a whole.
"Every single one of us is the offensive line," said offensive lineman Adhem Elsawi. "I've been saying this for a while: there's things we do good and things we do bad. We've got to do those things better to make sure we keep Shane upright more."
Protecting Carden is important for ECU in every game, but head coach Ruffin McNeill realizes how vital it is versus UNC. Last season, the Tar Heels took down Carden in the back field six times.
"They do a good job," said McNeill. "They attack well up front right now. They do a lot of movement. Protection in the passing game as well as in the run game—it's very important that we do a good job, be on the same page."
A dominant run game could be a difference maker for the Pirates. Vintavious Cooper ran for an average of 11.3 yards per carry during his last meeting with the Tar Heels. However, for that to happen again, the offensive line has to be able to block UNC's athletic defense.
Cooper's key for the offensive line to facilitate a successful running game is a lack of breakdowns. "We are great in the focus period. I know we can focus and we can get all of our work done and we can execute as best as possible. If we step into a game situation, we have to be able to bring over everything we learned from the practice field."
The experience of the offensive line should play a big role this season. Not only have they continued developing chemistry, but they've also had plenty of time to work with Carden. Last year's game against UNC was only Carden's second start.
"They played together all together last year with me," said Carden. "Experience has continued to help us out, going through spring, offseason, camp. I think it'll continue to help us."