Time: 3:30 p.m.
TV: WITN (selected areas of North and South Carolina); Jeff Charles (play-by-play), Billy Weaver (analyst), Amanda Ross (sideline)
Site: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (43,000 grass)
Records: East Carolina (0-5, 0-2 CUSA); UNC (0-5, 0-3 ACC)
Series: UNC leads 7-1-1
Rankings: Neither team is ranked
Coaches: East Carolina – John Thompson, 1st season, 0-5-0 .000; UNC – John Bunting, 3rd season, 11-19-0 .367
Last Meeting: UNC 24, East Carolina 21, Sept. 6, 2001, Chapel Hill
Line: UNC by 7
When this game was put on the schedule, both teams were flourishing under coaches' Mack Brown and Steve Logan. But as cruel fate would have it, both teams come in winless and far removed from glory days gone by. Carolina (0-5, 0-3 ACC) takes a break from the second-toughest schedule in the country, to travel to East Carolina (0-5, C-USA) for the first time ever in a long-awaited match-up between two in-state rivals. The two teams will not meet again until the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
The Tar Heels have been pushed around by some of the nation's most powerful programs, including three of the ACC's toughest. They now enter a portion of the schedule that should be at least slightly more accommodating. But the Pirates and their fans will be anything but hospitable. ECU fans are known for their rowdy behavior, and with a late afternoon start, look for the collective mood to be at a fever pitch by kickoff.
The Tar Heels will look to jump on a bandwagon of teams that have scored 12 touchdowns and two field goals off ECU turnovers, or 90 of the 187 total points allowed by the Pirates. It has been two years since East Carolina has won a game in which they turned the ball over more than their opponent.
ECU has not played since Tuesday a week ago, when it lost to Houston, 27-13.
Darian Durant leads a team that is averaging 287.6 yards per game through the air. The Tar Heels' will need to get their offense back on track this week, but that could be difficult considering the weather forecast calls for rain. Durant, who once quit the team, is already Carolina's career leader in touchdown passes (40), pass completions (402) and passing yards (5,096). ECU junior Desmond Robinson, who won the job from last year's starter Paul Troth in the off-season, has completed 69.2 percent of his passes – fifth best in the country. But in their last outing, the Pirates' quarterbacks could muster only 95 yards passing. Durant's experience and total offense threat should make the difference here.
Despite four serviceable tailbacks, the Tar Heels have not been able to establish a rushing attack thus far. Unlike in four of its previous five games however, Carolina should not have find itself facing a deep deficit on the scoreboard and therefore should have more opportunities to get the running game on track this week. Carolina will catch a break with ECU senior Art Brown down with a season-ending knee injury. Enter junior Marvin Townes, who is coming off a career-high 118 rushing yards on 18 carries versus the Cougars. Until the Tar Heels' can begin to assert its will on the ground, the edge goes to the Pirates.
Advantage: East Carolina
The game features two of the top pass catchers in the country. UNC's Jarwarski Pollock is ranked fifth nationally with 7.6 receptions per game. ECU's Terrance Copper is first with 8.6. The Tar Heels has a stable of exceptional athletes that keep getting better with each game, and they are averaging almost twice as many yards per game passing than the Pirates. Depth makes the difference here.
Once thought to be the strongest aspect of the Tar Heels' lineup, the experienced offensive line has struggled to open holes for its running backs and its pass protection has dropped off considerably since the start of the season. UNC head coach John Bunting said that the offensive problems suffered last week against Virginia starts up front. ECU All-America candidate Brian Rimpf will protect Robinson and Troth's blind sides. The 324-pound tackle, along with four other 300-plus types will go up against a Carolina defensive front that has rarely pressured the opposing quarterback this year. However, the Pirates' offensive attack has been suspect.
Carolina is trying more and more combinations both on the line and at linebacker. Isaiah Thomas, Shelton Bynum, Larry Edwards and Fred Sparkman represent a steady changing of the guard to facilitate more athleticism along the front. Veterans' Chase Page and Devllen Bullard have also stepped up their play recently. After showing flashes of improvement last week, the unit will look to be more consistent. ECU sophomore linebacker Chris Moore leads the nation in tackles per game, having racked up 70 stops in just four games. Moore had 24 tackles in the Pirates' season-opening loss to the Bearcats. Carolina's improvement is becoming more and more noticeable, but far from acceptable. However, neither team has very much to be proud of defensively at this point.
For the first time this season, free safety Dexter Reid did not lead the team in tackles versus the Cavaliers. This along with the maturation of cornerback Lionell Green should get the UNC secondary closer to playing at a level that was projected at the beginning of the season. The ECU secondary is young, but anchored by two veterans in stinger Kent Nealy and gator Mickey McCoy. Like the Tar Heels, these players have had to pick up an inordinate number of the Pirates' tackling duties due to shortcomings up front. However, the Pirates are allowing less than 200 yards per game passing – a feat Carolina cannot match. .
Advantage: East Carolina
With the steady kicking of Dan Orner and Michael Waddell – the nation's third leading punt returner – back healthy, the Tar Heels have shown the advantage in this all-important area. The hungry freshmen, under the leadership of assistant head coach James Webster and special teams' captain D.J. Walker have helped make UNC's kick coverage something to be proud of. The always-dangerous Copper will return punts, while backup running back Robert Tillman will start out taking the kickoffs. However, neither has gotten loose this season to do much damage. The Pirates do have an excellent punter in Ray Guy Award candidate Ryan Dougherty.
Prediction: UNC 24, East Carolina 20