Art’s Angle: Bad D, Bad Day
No excuses. Just the facts.
Do not say the Tar Heels came out flat and with a hangover from the Georgia Tech game. If that’s the case on a beautiful Parents’ Weekend in front of the season’s first sellout crowd, we have the wrong players or the wrong coaches.
We have the right coaches who are trying to overcome the fact that they don’t have enough of the right players. After losing a half-dozen who are now on NFL rosters, Larry Fedora and his staff are paying the price for inheriting two subpar recruiting classes in the wake of the NCAA probation and the Butch Davis firing.
East Carolina hasn’t won in Chapel Hill in nearly 40 years. The Pirates now have three victories in the history of the 16-game series. In their fourth year under Coach Ruffin McNeill, they have more good college players than does Carolina, better size and length and strength and quickness all over the place.
And that seems impossible when you see the video promotion of all the Tar Heels who have advanced to the NFL in recent years.
These Tar Heels could not stop ECU, giving up scores on each Pirate possession of the second half while trying to dig themselves out of a miserable, mistake-prone first half. This makes two straight games when the defense has been on the field far too long while penalties and terrible tackling killed their chances to get to the sideline. And so, in the 55-31 shellacking, the real truth has come out.
This is not even close to the 8-4 team Larry Fedora debuted with a year ago. East Carolina pulled the covers off a squad that, technically, still has a chance to win the ACC Coastal Division and play in the Orange Bowl but, in reality, is looking down the barrel of going 4-8 this time. At 1-3, Carolina visits resurgent Virginia Tech, returns home to play man-eating Miami and a Boston College team that played Florida State tough Saturday and then goes to N.C. State.
Sure, the record could be 5-3 when that murderous stretch is over, but Saturday’s performance looked far more like that of a losing season. That’s how shocking what transpired in Kenan was Saturday. Giving up 55 points and a home record 603 yards to a Conference USA team? Unfathomable. In Fedora’s two home defeats since taking over the Tar Heel program, opponents have combined for 113 points (including 68 by Georgia Tech last season).
Seriously, when was the last time we could not stop East Carolina? Try never. The Pirates had their way with the Tar Heels in every way, big gainers on first down, easy conversions on third down and, despite giving up 465 yards themselves, scored more points than any in-state opponent ever has under the tall pines. Junior quarterback Shane Carden figured in six of his team’s seven touchdowns, running and throwing for three each as easily the best quarterback on the field.
And the Tar Heels made an All-American out of 5-9 senior Vintavious Cooper, who rushed for 186 yards and caught eight passes for 70 more. Ironically, the only thing Cooper did not do is score.
Although Bryn Renner had his own record-setting day, moving into to second all-time in UNC touchdown passes (61) and trails only Canadian pro football star Darien Durant’s 68. But Renner, who was shaky earlier, did not throw the first of his three TD passes until Carolina was well behind by double digits and in hurry-up offense the entire second half. The Tar Heels are still searching for a run game and without injured Romar Morris had to go four deep on the depth chart to give A.J. Blue help. Will Fedora take the red-shirt off freshman bullet back T.J. Logan?
The purple and gold Carolina beat the white-clad Carolina at its own game, running a record 101 plays at a frenetic pace and being way faster than the home team, including an astonishing 29 first down snaps on which the Pirates gained at least five yards. There is no way to play successful defense doing that.
Neither were the Tar Heels smarter, committing nine penalties for 94 yards although at least two of them looked like bail-out calls by the Conference USA officials. ECU was also far more physical, breaking tackles that turned containment into catastrophe for UNC time and again.
Despite an uneven day with the football, the Tar Heels certainly accumulated enough points and yardage to win most games. But the defense, which had shown marked improvement each week, back-slid big time and will need a complete reversal of fortune in Blacksburg Saturday. If Carolina has any chance to spring an upset and stay in the ACC Coastal Division race, it will have to find a way to be as good at Virginia Tech as it was bad on a really bad day in Kenan.