Fedora Familiar with ECU, McNeill

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - There probably won't be many surprises when North Carolina plays host to East Carolina on Saturday.

The Pirates' coaching staff is intimately familiar with the Tar Heels' personnel - and vice versa - because of geography.

And new North Carolina coach Larry Fedora and East Carolina's Ruffin McNeill certainly don't need an introduction.

When Fedora was at Southern Mississippi, they spent the past two years facing off for supremacy in the East Division of Conference USA. Before that, their paths crossed when they were assistants in the Big 12.

"When you've been in it a long time like Larry and I both and the staff, there's the competition, but there's always the respect of what we do in our profession," McNeill said. "Larry and I came up the same from the beginnings, from coaching high school to working our way up through the ranks. We both appreciate getting your knees dirty and your elbows dirty."

Both teams are known for their wide-open offenses and their overriding belief in outscoring their opponents.

Fedora's fast-paced offense has been a popular topic of conversation in Chapel Hill for the past nine months, and North Carolina (1-2) christened his reign three weeks ago with a 62-0 rout of Elon, and nearly staged a huge comeback in a loss at Louisville.

McNeill is in his third year of introducing his version of Mike Leach's quarterback-friendly "Air Raid" offense, and the two most productive seasons by a QB in East Carolina history came under McNeill's watch - with Dominique Davis flinging the ball all over Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium the past two years.

"I think the kids finally understand what he's doing. We have some knowledge because we've played them for the last couple of years" at Southern Miss, Fedora said.

"So you see a big improvement each year with Ruffin's team. I think he's finally getting some guys there defensively that are comfortable with what he's trying to do. They understand the scheme. He's got them playing hard. They're going to come into our stadium, and they're going to play hard no matter what. They're still throwing the ball all over the park on offense and they've shown they can score some points."

With Davis gone, sophomore Shane Carden is preparing to make his second career start. He threw for 171 yards and a touchdown last week to help the Pirates (2-1) beat Southern Miss - Fedora's old team.

"We've been able to seem them personnel-wise and scheme-wise a bit, and we know the players pretty well," Carden said. "There's a lot of familiarity between these two schools."

The Tar Heels, who have lost two straight, enter as 17-point favorites. They were listless in the first half last week against Louisville, falling behind 36-7 halfway through their 39-34 loss. They were knocked off by Wake Forest a week before that.

"We have the potential to be a great team. We just have to play a complete game," defensive end Kareem Martin said. "This year, we've played good for one half in the Wake Forest and Louisville games. The big thing for us is to come out strong and finish strong, (and) not just be a one-half team, because you can lose a game in the first half but you can't win one. I think it's big for us to play both halves and show how good of a team we really are."

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