Summer Journal: UNC-ECU

GREENVILLE, N.C. — For the first time in a long time, ECU and UNC will mean something for both sides of the gridiron. But who does it matter for most?

With little doubt, East Carolina's meeting with North Carolina provides the most intrigue of all the games on the Pirates' schedule this fall.

It will be the first time the two schools have met since ECU stunned the Tar Heels for its first win in Chapel Hill in 38 years a season ago.

But does that result alone suggest it's more important for UNC to win this time around? If it doesn't, maybe the manner of which the Pirates won that game is enough to tip the balance.

Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley called arguably his best game since arriving at ECU in 2010, seeing his unit run 101 plays for 603 yards and own possession for over 36 minutes. There were even rumors in the offseason that Riley was being considered to fill the Tar Heels' offensive coordinator vacancy left by Blake Anderson, who was named Arkansas State's head coach in December.

Despite receiving a ton of interest, Riley stayed — but could you imagine the level of hostility at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium if he returned wearing light blue?

Immediately following ECU's lopsided 55-31 victory at Kenan Stadium, several Tar Heels made headlines for their postgame comments: From running back A.J. Blue saying, "Nobody expects to lose to ECU, especially us," and claiming he and his teammates were unfocused to Anderson explaining how quarterback Bryn Renner sweated profusely during the game, which caused a few of his arrant passes.

Whatever was the cause for their struggles on that September afternoon is irrelevant — the Tar Heels were embarrassed, which sets the stage for the rematch.

ECU is aiming to couple back-to-back victories against UNC for the first time in school history and prove last September wasn't a fluke. Meanwhile, UNC would like to set the record straight and add to their vast edge in the all-time series (11-3-1).

After losing five of their first six games in 2013, the Tar Heels didn't let the tumultuous start break them. Instead, they salvaged the season by taking six of their last seven games, including a 39-17 Belk Bowl victory against Cincinnati.

Although UNC lost several playmakers from last season — Renner, tight end Eric Ebron and defensive end Kareem Martin are just a few to name — the Tar Heels still have enough of them back to likely be listed in the preseason top 25 polls.

As a sophomore, Marquise Williams split time at quarterback until Renner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in November. As a full-time starter, Williams then provided a spark to a seemingly stagnant offense in the last month of the year.

He will be joined by his fellow classmate, wide receiver Quinshad David, and sophomore running back T.J. Logan this fall as the key cogs in the UNC offense.

Match that group against the fast-paced, Air Raid offense that Riley and ECU senior quarterback Shane Carden, who combined for six touchdowns (three passing, three rushing) against UNC, have mastered over the last two seasons, and you'll likely see plenty of offensive fireworks at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Speaking of Dowdy-Ficklen, 2014 marks the sixth consecutive year the Tar Heels and Pirates have played each other, but it will be just the second time UNC has traveled to Greenville during that stretch. UNC won its last road game in the series 35-20 in 2011.

Also, this fall's game will be the last edition of the series until 2018 and there are no scheduled meetings beyond that.

So you can argue either way who needs this game more, but one thing is for certain: UNC-ECU will mean something for both sides for the first time in a long time.

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