UNC-ECU: Between The Lines

GREENVILLE, N.C. – North Carolina and East Pirates were like two heavyweight fighters Saturday night. Both teams traded blow after blow for four quarters, neither able to land a haymaker, until the Pirates' field goal kicker connected on a 39-yard field goal for the 34-31 win.

What Went Wrong

Trimane Goddard said, when asked if he was surprised at what ECU was able to do in the passing game, "I was, I mean I knew they had some good receivers and a mobile quarterback, but they hit so many of those plays."

After North Carolina went up 17-7 in the second quarter on a 39-yard reception by Brandon Tate, the Tar Heel defense was seldom able to stay off the field. By halftime, with the score tied at 17-17, the Pirates had an 18:26 to 11:34 time of possession advantage. Much of that was do to the inability of the UNC secondary to cover the field and ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney's ability to buy himself time until receivers got open. UNC often rushed only three linemen as they sought to cover the Pirate receivers – to no avail.

For the rest of the night, Pinkney and the ECU passing attack seemed unstoppable – completing 31-of-42 for 406 yards. The inability of the UNC defense to slow down ECU's passing attack was both surprising and the key to the game.

What Went Right

For a team that has not produced a lot of offense since 2004, the Tar Heels moved the ball well for the second straight week. T.J. Yates played well again, completing 20-of-32 for 344 yards and three touchdowns, against one interception. Of that pick, Yates' said, "The ball got tipped a little bit at the line scrimmage, and that corner came up on it really quick and made a great play"

After two games, it appears that the Tar Heels have a legitimate ACC quarterback.

"I think he has shown the ability to make plays and he will grow and get better," Davis said.

And, finally, Brandon Tate is emerging as a bona fide star. He now has five touchdowns in two games and scores in a variety of ways – this week included a punt return.

The Tar Heels also showed toughness in answering two ECU touchdowns with touchdowns of their own, scoring a two-point conversion to tie the score 31-31 before the final ECU field goal.

* It's worth noting that UNC was more effective than expected in run defense, holding ECU to 1.9 yards per carry.

X's and O's

The Tar Heel offense now has established some tendencies – particularly in their use of personnel. They have a "run" offense – consisting of Bobby Rome at H-back, Johnny White at tailback, and Richard Quinn at tight end. The most common substitution pattern is to bring those players out and put in Zach Pianalto at H-back, Brandon Tate as a third wide receiver, and Richie Rich at tailback as the "pass" formation. That's the "tendency," but the twist comes when UNC runs from the "pass" personnel group, and then passes the ball using the "run personnel."

That appears to be what offensive coordinator John Shoop is trying to establish. Get the defense thinking "run" with a particular personnel group, and "pass" with another personnel group. While those two groups might tend to run or pass based on the personnel, once the defense has bought in to that tendency, the play call may well reverse. The UNC offense, except when in a two-minute mode, also uses both shift and motion on virtually every offensive play.

What To Take From This Game

"One thing I found out a little something about our football team tonight was a little bit about our character." said Davis.

The team did not yield to the "here we go again" mentality of some previous years. That thought was echoed by several UNC players; Scott Lenahan, Trimane Goddard, and Hakeem Nicks.

"We fought to the last minute, we didn't just quit," said Hakeem Nicks.

What's Next

Virginia is coming to town next weekend, and the Tar Heels – once they get over this last-second loss – will have to like their chances. There's a lot of work to do to figure out what went wrong in the secondary, but the Tar Heels are developing a knack for big-play capability that will make them an exciting team to watch.

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