Head-to-Head: UNC vs. ECU

What are the key battles to watch in Saturday's game at East Carolina? Inside Carolina takes a closer look at the five head-to-head matchups that will determine the outcome ...

1. UNC's Ground Game vs. ECU's Rush Defense

East Carolina's rush defense held Virginia Tech and to 33 total yards on 31 carries on the ground in last weekend's season opener, for a paltry 1.1 yards per rush average. VT's All-ACC candidate Brandon Ore managed just 70 yards on 23 carries (3.0 ypr).

Head coach Skip Holtz used a variety of schemes to confuse the Hokies' offensive line, as the Pirates notched six tackles for loss against the run. Linebackers Quentin Cotton and Pierre Bell led the back charge assisting the front four to clamp down on Ore and Co.

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

It should be noted that Virginia Tech's rushing offense ranked 90th nationally in 2006, a number skewed by a 284-yard performance against Southern Mississippi. Regardless, North Carolina faces a severe test against ECU, with three young running backs that combined for only 79 yards on 28 carries – a 2.8 yards per rush average.

"I don't think that any one of our running backs distinguished themselves or separated themselves," Davis said. "We tried to get all three guys – Richie Rich and Anthony Elzy, along with Johnny [White] – in the ball game to try to get a feel for how they would play and where they're going to be defining roles, how they might do on game day.

"But I think it was a positive start for them. There was nothing negative that came out of the ball game. We'll just see how all three of those guys continue to grow"

2. DC Chuck Pagano vs. ECU's Quarterbacks

Prior to last Saturday, it appeared as though UNC defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was only going to have to prepare for East Carolina quarterback Rob Kass, a red-shirt freshman who won the job in the spring only to miss the season opener at Virginia Tech due to a team policy violation.

Patrick Pinkney entered the game in Blacksburg after sophomore starter Brett Clay proved ineffective, and the junior signal-caller took full advantage of the opportunity, passing for 115 yards and rushing for 48 more in a solid debut. His performance earned him the starting nod for this weekend's game against North Carolina.

"I was real pleased with Patrick Pinkney in terms of the poise he showed and I thought he did a real nice job of managing the game," Holtz said. "I always look into a quarterback's eyes to see if I'm looking to the back of his head or if he is into it. He was definitely into it."

Pagano now must prepare his unit for the gunslinger ability of Kass, as well as the mobility of Pinkney.

James Madison quarterback Rodney Landers presented problems with various QB draws in the second quarter last Saturday, but Pagano adjusted at halftime to blitz an extra defensive back in UNC's nickel packages to control Landers. Those in-game adjustments will be crucial to containing the Pirates' quarterbacks this weekend.

3. UNC's Offensive Tackles vs. ECU's Defensive Ends

If East Carolina is successful in shutting down the Tar Heels' ground game, the Pirates' defensive ends will be given the green light to launch an all-out assault on UNC quarterback T.J. Yates.

Fortunately for the red-shirt freshman, North Carolina's offensive has been successful in pass protection over the past year, with special emphasis on the offensive tackles.

Junior right tackle Garrett Reynolds and red-shirt freshman left tackle Kyle Jolly did not allow a sack against James Madison. Reynolds' work, in particular, drew praise from Davis following last weekend's season opener.

"Garrett just had an outstanding game – graded out very well," Davis said. "His performance in the game was very solid. He gave up no hits or pressures or sacks on the quarterback."

East Carolina's defensive ends combined for four sacks on Virginia Tech's Sean Glennon, as junior Zack Slate, sophomore C.J. Wilson and sophomore Scott Robinson all laid big hits on the Hokies' signal-caller.

Reynolds warned fans to also watch out for junior Marcus Hands, a 2003 Tar Heel signee that failed to qualify.

"They're big, strong guys," Reynolds said. "They're good athletes. We're definitely having to study a lot of film on them, and figure out how to scheme against those guys."

4. T.J. Yates vs. ECU's Secondary

While East Carolina may have shut down the Hokies' rushing attack, Glennon was still able to hurt the Pirates through the air, completing 22-of-33 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown pass.

Junior cornerbacks Leon Best and Jerek Hewett will have their work cut out for them against North Carolina's wide receivers, especially if sophomore strong safety Van Eskridge continues to help out in run support.

"Our secondary is young as we have one total game of experience between the four players," Holtz said. "We voided the zones that we were supposed to be covering and that was what was so frustrating about it. With the talented quarterback we will play against next week, I don't feel that we are in a position to play man coverage.

"North Carolina gives you problems because they have an NFL mindset. There is a lot of confusion as they shift and motion and they do all the things that hurt us Saturday. Our secondary will need to make great mental strides from week one to week two."

Yates was able to connect with junior wide receivers Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster on deep balls behind James Madison's secondary, completing three of those passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. And rest assured, sophomore phenom Hakeem Nicks is drooling at the opportunity that awaits on Saturday night in Greenville.

"The thing that scares me the most about them right now is their skill players," Holtz said. "They have some wide receivers that have big play potential and their quarterback has a rope for an arm. They throw the deep ball well and what concerns me are the uncontested deep balls we gave up against Virginia Tech, knowing that is one of [UNC's] strengths."

If North Carolina is able to scrap together anything resembling a ground game, then Yates has the potential to post even better numbers than he did in the season opener last weekend.

5. UNC's Youth and Inexperience vs. Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium

The most difficult adjustment for the Tar Heels on Saturday will be acclimating to a rowdy road environment. Performing well in front of 60,000 cheering fans is one thing – succeeding in a hostile setting like Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is quite another.

Davis considers it just another part of the growing process for his incredibly young football team.

"Every game has its own unique set of challenges," Davis said. "Now, obviously, dealing with crowd noise will be an added part of the scenario of game week preparations."

The coaching staff cannot calm the players on the field of play, which is where the handful of veteran leaders on the North Carolina roster will play a prominent role.

"You've got to tell them not to get overexcited," senior linebacker Durell Mapp said. "Being a veteran player, I've been exposed to that type of atmosphere plenty of times, so you just have to sit down and tell the guys what they should expect and tell them not to get overwhelmed by it."

One positive for the Tar Heels' defensive unit is that an experienced upperclassman is woven through each position group, with seniors Kentwan Balmer and Hilee Taylor on the defensive line, Mapp at linebacker and junior safety Trimane Goddard securing the secondary.

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