Heels Prepare For First Road Test

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – With a season-opening home victory in place, North Carolina now looks ahead to Saturday evening's road clash with in-state rival East Carolina. The Pirates are coming off a strong defensive performance in a 17-7 loss at Virginia Tech.

This home opener for East Carolina is the 11th meeting between the two schools, and only the second time the programs have battled in Greenville. Head coach Butch Davis spoke about the Pirates' showing against the Hokies and the difficulties that ECU will present to his squad at Monday's press conference.

"[ECU] played lights out," Davis said. "That was a tough environment to have to go into to play, and to handle it with the poise that they did is a great tribute to them. They're a talented, fast, athletic football team. They gave Virginia Tech all that Virginia Tech wanted. They present an awful lot of different challenges certainly than James Madison does. They're a lot more experienced, [with] a lot more veteran players."

The Tar Heels know that East Carolina will present bigger problems than the James Madison Dukes did on Saturday night, and building on that performance is key to being competitive this weekend at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

"This is going to be a huge challenge for us in all three phases of the game," Davis said. "Our expectation as a football team is for us to get better. Now we've had an opportunity – yesterday – to show our players the tape and show some of the mistakes they made. Whether it was in technique, whether it was in alignments, whether it was in assignments, and as a coaching staff we expect them to learn from those mistakes and hopefully to continue with coaching during the course of the week to correct some of those things."

East Carolina sophomore quarterback Rob Kass was named the Pirates' starter at the conclusion of spring practice, but was suspended for the opener due to a team policy violation.

Junior back-up quarterback Patrick Pinkney displayed his speed while running ECU's offense against the vaunted Hokie defense, gaining 48 yards on nine carries to go along with 14 of 25 completions and 115 yards through the air. Pinkney's performance against the Hokies elevated him to the starter's role against the Tar Heels.

As a team, the Pirates rushed for 142 yards on 35 carries, good for 4.1 yards per carry.

"East Carolina really gave them fits as far as running the football," Davis said. "They didn't have very much success – certainly not to the level that Virginia Tech would have liked to have had."

North Carolina will have to respect the Pirates' rushing attack, which will allow ECU head coach Skip Holtz's offense to focus on breaking down an incredibly inexperienced UNC secondary through the air.

"With the success that they had running the football last week against Virginia Tech, they're going to certainly have the ability to not only continue to throw the ball, [but] throw the ball deep," Davis said. "They've got some really talented good receivers.

"And they change it up – in some respects, even though the philosophy of their offense is dissimilar to us, the similarities are that they change personnel groups a lot. They're in three wide receiver [sets] one play, two tight ends the next play and then in four wide receiver [sets] – they're back and forth."

The Pirates' defense effectively shut down Virginia Tech's ground game, holding standout running back Brandon Ore to 70 yards on 23 rushing attempts, good for only a 3.0 yards per carry average. The defensive line also disrupted the Hokies' offense, forcing two fumbles and a sack, while totaling four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss.

"Their front seven is big – they're athletic, they're physical [and] they are hard to move," Davis said. "They present an enormous challenge for our offensive line and tight ends and fullbacks."

In addition to the challenges that the East Carolina squad brings to the table, North Carolina will enter its first road contest of the year in front of 43,000 maniacal fans at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

"East Carolina is a very difficult place to go and play," Davis said. "It is loud [and] it is enthusiastic. Their fans do a great job getting behind their football team, and that will obviously add an additional challenge to a young team – being able to handle crowd noise and obviously going on the road."

Several of the Tar Heel players were able to watch portions of the ECU-VT game in the team hotel on Saturday afternoon, and they came away impressed with the East Carolina program.

"It definitely gets your focus," red-shirt freshman quarterback T.J. Yates. "They're a great team and I think it opened everybody's eyes, so we can work harder to get prepared for them… I love playing away games – it makes it that much better when you beat them."

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