Quarterbacks – Ronald Curry and Darian Durant each had their best games of the year on Saturday. Curry completed 10 of 16 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball eight times for 40 yards and in the process became the school's all-time leader in total yardage with 5,521 yards.
Durant hit on 11 of 17 passes for 151 yards and two TD's. He played with a great deal of confidence once again and became the first freshman QB to toss eight touchdown passes in a season in UNC history.
Both players, especially Curry, showed tremendous courage and made big plays when the Heels were in need.
Offensive line – The line didn't generate the kind of rushing game from scrimmage other teams have against ECU, but perhaps more importantly they kept ECU's athletic and blitzing defense from Curry and Durant, allowing a season-low one sack.
Defense – Aside from ECU's first two possessions in which the Pirates scored 10 points, the defense settled down and shut down ECU's talented QB David Garrard and their unusual but potent offense. The Heels adapted to Pirate coach Steve Logan's approach, limiting ECU to just 77 yards after that second possession until their final one. In fact, the Pirates gained just 142 total yards in the final three quarters.
Receivers – Kory Bailey has been exceptional during the winning streak and Bosley Allen and Chesley Borders haven't been far behind.
Bailey caught six passes for 95 yards, including a sensational effort to keep alive a UNC drive that resulted in points. Allen nabbed four passes for 42 yards. Borders hauled in six balls for 83 yards and scored UNC's first touchdown. Tight end Zach Hilton caught three passes and scored a touchdown and Sam Aiken hauled in a 21-yard scoring pass.
Derrick Johnson – Johnson's game-saving effort was an example of why this program is in the proper hands as opposed to recent years. He caught up to ECU's Art Brown on a kickoff return as Brown was about to cross the goal line in the fourth quarter and knocked the ball loose into and eventually out of the end zone. The result was a touchback and UNC regained possession at its own 20 and much of ECU's life was sucked out.
John Bunting – With each game it becomes clearer that UNC athletic director Dick Baddour made a great decision when he hired this relatively unproven coach last December. Bunting has his team believing as the recent weeks show. But he had them believing before, which made this streak possible. Carolina could have easily given up after the 0-3 start but Bunting wouldn't allow it. He said, while at 0-3 and Florida State up next, the Heels could win their remaining nine games. That kind of confidence is why the Heels are in excellent position to go to a bowl game for the first time since 1998.
Fans – For the most part the fans that didn't sell or give their tickets away to ECU fans were terrific. They were early, loud and stayed until the end. It would be a huge plus for the program if they can continue to show this kind of support for a program that shouldn't ever "beg" for attention from its own.
Early malaise – The Tar Heels didn't seem to be in the game mentally early on. They were coming off a pair of extremely emotional and mentally draining victories, so as they are human, it took time to get it going upstairs. But once they did, Carolina was exceptional.
Late drive – For the second straight week UNC's highly regarded defense allowed the opposition to drive deep into their territory in a close game. N.C. State fell short inside the 30 but ECU crossed the goal line with 23 seconds left and also converted a two-point conversion to cut UNC's lead to the final margin of 24-21. As well as they have been, this can't be a good sign.
Special teams – This problematic area in Norman and Austin came back and darn near destroyed the Heels. Johnson saved what was a terrible effort on a kickoff and too often ECU got quality field position on kickoffs and punts. The sky kick made sense to a degree. But if Bunting were more confident in his kickoff team, he wouldn't have felt it was necessary to give the Pirates quality field position in fear of possible long returns. UNC still has a lot of work to do in this department.
Conventional ground attack – The Tar Heels did manage 134 yards rushing (on 48 attempts) for the game, but many of those yards were from scrambling QB's (Curry-eight carries for 40 yards) and the yards per rush average (2.7) was lousy. Tailback Andre Williams (23-55) had a tough time finding holes against a mediocre ECU front. The line has improved over recent weeks but still isn't even average. This will continue to be a weakness for Carolina.
Uniforms – The Tar Heels hadn't worn blue pants at home since a 27-20 loss to N.C. State in 1992. Mack Brown, then UNC's head coach, vowed they would never wear all blue and didn't. However, Bunting opted to let the team don the blue unies and it didn't look appealing at all. One has to wonder why Bunting would break these duds out for a game with a Conference USA opponent and why, after wearing all white on the road, he would even use the blue pants at all. Interesting nonetheless.
Booing fans – For the fans that booed Curry – shame on you! Who do you think you are? Curry has done so much for this university and given UNC fans his life for four years. No athlete in the school's history arrived with the pressure Curry did and has been ridiculed as he has. However, he is the football program's all-time leader in total offense and was the point guard on the school's first regular season ACC champion (shared title) since 1995. It's one thing to boo professionals who are paid huge salaries, but to boo a college athlete, especially such a decent young man like Curry, is a disgrace. And don't forget all the recruits in attendance that heard the boos.
The Tar Heels will host Virginia on Saturday at 1:30 in the oldest rivalry in the south. With a victory, UNC will be in excellent position to go to a bowl game. With home games remaining against Wake Forest, Duke and SMU, Carolina should reach the necessary seven wins to be bowl-eligible. But it starts with a dangerous UVa team.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.