Tar Heels not taking talented ECU for granted

Sep. 28, 2013 @ 10:29 AM

North Carolina heads into today’s East Carolina game in the exact same position as last year. The Tar Heels have lost two of their first three games, including their ACC opener, and are looking to get back on track with a big performance against the Pirates (12:30 p.m., WRAL).

Entering last season’s game it was the defense that was reeling, having given up 36 first-half points against Louisville and a late go-ahead touchdown drive against Wake Forest. The unit responded against ECU, holding the Pirates to a season-low six points and recording seven sacks, the most by a Tar Heel defense since 2000.

This year it’s the offense that’s underperforming. UNC (1-2) was held to 10 points at South Carolina, its lowest in 15 games under coach Larry Fedora, and had just 62 yards in the second half of a 28-20 loss at Georgia Tech last week.

Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said penalties, busted protections, misreads and dropped balls all kept UNC from getting into a rhythm and contributed to the subpar showing in Atlanta.

“You name it, we’ve done it, to be honest with you,” offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. “We just have this habit right now of creating some self-inflicted wounds.”

After finishing in the top 15 in both points and yards per game last year, UNC is 91st in points (23.3) and 83rd in yards (374.3) this season.

“I really expected our offense to be more productive this year just going into our second year,” Fedora said. “I still believe we’re going to be, and I’m going to expect us to be.”

Anderson also remained optimistic about the offense, which is dealing with three new starters on the offensive line and is still searching for an every-down back to replace Giovani Bernard.

“If they’ll keep giving us the effort and attitude, the execution will come,” Anderson said. “Hopefully sooner rather than later, but I believe the process works. It’s worked for as long as we’ve been doing it. It’ll get there.”

Quarterback Bryn Renner said the team was encouraged by the first-half performance against Georgia Tech, when the Tar Heels scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions.

Renner should also be eager to face ECU. In two previous starts against the Pirates, the senior has completed 40 of 63 attempts for 551 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.

UNC has beaten ECU (2-1) in each of the past four seasons, but senior defensive end Kareem Martin, a Roanake Rapids native, said the Tar Heels won’t take the Pirates lightly.

“Every year we play ECU we get their best shot,” Martin said. “They come in here with a chip on their shoulder. They’re always a forgotten team in North Carolina. If we come in there and underestimate them, they’ll definitely have the talent and ability to win.

“They have the athletes to come in here and shock us. We have to stay focused and not let that happen.”

NOTES — UNC’s helmet and the Kenan Stadium field will both feature an American flag pattern as part of Military Appreciation Day today. … Both coaching staffs will wear Coach to Cure MD patches to raise awareness for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research. Fans are encouraged to donate online at www.CoachtoCureMD.org or donate $5 by texting CURE to 90999.