Carolina Braces For East Carolina Collision in Pirate Country

The No. 25 North Carolina football team, 2-0 on the season, hits the road looking to take down in-state rival East Carolina, sporting a 2-1 record, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

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At least outside the locker room, this weekend’s tilt is hard to mention without first referencing the 55-31 runaway victory for the Pirates in Chapel Hill last year.

Coach Fedora says he hasn’t needed to remind his players of what happened on that somber Saturday a season ago.

“I haven’t brought it up once. I don’t plan on it. If they have forgotten that, they’re probably playing the wrong sport,” Coach Fedora says.

With that painful memory still emblazoned in their minds, the Tar Heels are hungry for revenge. But the task won’t be easy.

ECU vs. UNC 2013 (Elliott Rubin)

ECU vs. UNC 2013 (Elliott Rubin)

The Pirates are coming off an impressive 28-21 upset win over the then-No. 17 Virginia Tech Hokies on the road in Blacksburg, VA.

Coach Fedora says he watched every minute of last week’s game and knows the UNC defense will have its hands full against an ECU offense led by senior quarterback Shane Carden.

“We knew they were a good football team. It didn’t surprise me. They were hot, especially in that first half [vs. VT], offensively. Their receivers made some incredible plays. That quarterback [Carden] took some hits. They blitzed him and got after him. He completed them and did a heck of a job,” Coach Fedora says.

On the flip side, ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill, who has a long history coaching against Coach Fedora, says he understands his Pirates will have their work cut out for them trying to keep up with the warp-speed offensive pace of the Tar Heels.

“You got to make routine plays, and you got to be able to play the next play. They’re a tall task for everyone. Not just because of their fast-paced offense, but because they can distribute the ball. Larry [Fedora] is getting his philosophy within the team. He has a quarterback who can run his philosophy and do what he wants. It’s a tall task for any defense. We’re up next, so it’s a tall task for us,” Coach McNeill says.

In close games, turnovers usually make the difference. And thus far this season, the UNC defense has created a promising number of turnovers – tied for fifth in the nation in turnovers gained through three weeks.

Coach Fedora says if the trend continues, Carolina’s weaknesses will be more easily overcome.

“One of the things that we spent a lot of time talking about is creating takeaways. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve done a great job of that. We have to continue doing that. When you do that, it makes up for a lot of other problems,” Coach Fedora says.

Ryan Switzer gets the handoff for the Tar Heels (Elliott Rubin)

Ryan Switzer gets the handoff for the Tar Heels (Elliott Rubin)

Saturday’s game is a sell-out. But Coach Fedora says his team should be prepared for the loud environment. The team practices with loud music pumping every day.

“We practice with a lot of loud music all the time. The reason for that is our guys have to be able to think, concentrate and communicate throughout that chaos all the time. Therefore, when we go on the road and in a hostile environment and it’s loud, you hope your guys aren’t going to affected by it as much,” Coach Fedora says.

UNC leads the all-time series with ECU 12-3-1, but the 17th meeting in the rivalry, and the fourth contested in Greenville, promises to be an entertaining matchup.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/carolina-braces-east-carolina-collision-pirate-country/

UNC Offensive Attack Lacking Consistency

UNC head football coach Larry Fedora is known for his offensive prowess, but the Carolina skipper hasn’t been satisfied with the Tar Heel attack so far in 2014.

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Despite averaging over 400 yards per game and placing among the top 20 in the nation in points scored, Coach Fedora says his offense has a long way to go to meet his lofty expectations.

“We’ve got a long way to go to get to be a really good offense. That’s what our goals are. We expect to be that way. We aren’t even close to the expectation level at this point offensively,” Coach Fedora says.

TJ Thorpe on the receiving end of a Quinshad Davis WR pass. (Elliott Rubin)

TJ Thorpe on the receiving end of a Quinshad Davis WR pass. (Elliott Rubin)

One of the issues with the offensive production likely comes from the inexperience on the line. Coach Fedora puts it bluntly when asked to rate the play of the linemen, but he says they’ll get better with each game.

“Very average – I don’t know how to say it any nicer than that. I think they understand that. We aren’t where we want to be. We knew it was going to be a work in progress. Every rep that they get is a good experience for them,” Coach Fedora says.

A positive development for the Tar Heels is the return of talented wide receiver T.J. Thorpe. Thorpe was sidelined with an ankle injury the first two games of 2014, but expects to be back running routes for UNC this Saturday.

Coach Fedora says having Thorpe back in the lineup will give the offense a lift.

“Coming out of spring ball, he was probably the most productive and exciting receiver we had. It’s going to be nice to have that boost back when he gets back out there,” Coach Fedora says.

But off the field, Coach Fedora keeps an eye on the T.V. for inspiration. He says he’s not above copying what works for other teams if he thinks it will aid his football team.

“I really can’t remember the last time I watched a game as a fan. If you see something that you like or don’t like, I will steal it in a heartbeat if it’s something that we like and something that will be good for us,” Coach Fedora says.

So what’s the key to UNC becoming more consistent on offense? Coach Fedora says the Tar Heels have to establish a more explosive ground game.

“I still think we have to come together as an offensive line. That is to be expected at this point in the season with the guys that we have. I would say overall, we have to be more consistent running the football. For us to be good the rest of the way, we have to be efficient running the football,” Coach Fedora says.

In order to open up those running lanes, though, the Carolina offensive linemen are going to have to clear them first. That means those young Tar Heels will need to grow up quickly if Coach Fedora’s offense is to transition from a streaky threat to a more reliable, consistent machine.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-offensive-attack-lacking-consistency/

Scouting Report: A Chat with ECU Head Coach Ruffin McNeill

WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with Pirate head coach Ruffin McNeill earlier this week. The two discussed the Pirates’ upset victory at Virginia Tech last weekend, Shane Carden’s leadership role on the ECU offense and of course, his team’s in-state showdown with UNC this Saturday afternoon.

***Listen to the interview***

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/scouting-report-chat-ecu-head-coach-ruffin-mcneill/

UNC Soccer Stocks Increasing

The UNC men’s and women’s soccer teams saw improvements in recent polls, although the women haven’t seen the pitch competitively in ten days.

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Men’s Poll – Click to enlarge

The NSCAA coaches agreed with College Soccer News propelling the Tar Heel men to the No. 1 spot. Carolina received seven first-place votes and edged out UCLA for the top spot by just eight points. The Bruins and No. 3 Creighton Bluejays also received seven first-place votes each. The last first-place vote went to Notre Dame, which sits at No. 5.

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Women’s Poll – Click to enlarge

The UNC women inched from No. 10 to No. 9 this week. The team’s last contest resulted in a win against Arkansas, 2-1 in the Duke Nike Classic on September 7. UNC still has three more days off until ACC play begins against Notre Dame Saturday in South Bend, Indiana.

UCLA, which Carolina tied with on August 29 in the Carolina Nike Classic, holds the No. 1 spot with 24 of the 25 first-place votes. Virginia Tech ranks No. 2, according to the poll, and received one top vote. The Tar Heels and Hokies meet October 3 in Chapel Hill.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-soccer-teams-stock-increasing/

No. 1 UNC Men’s Soccer Downs William & Mary, 2-0

WILLIAMSBURG, VA – The No. 1 UNC men’s soccer team took care of business with a 2-0 road win at William & Mary Tuesday night.

North Carolina (5-1-0) wasted no time jumping out in front by scoring on its first shot of the match to take a 1-0 lead on Tyler Engel’s second goal of the year.

Omar Holness began the scoring play with a corner kick, Andy Craven gently nudged the ball towards Engel and he deposited the ball past the Tribe keeper.

William & Mary (2-4-0) had four shots in the opening half, and its best chances came midway through the stanza. A giveaway by the Tar Heel defense allowed Jackson Eskay the opportunity to make a play, but his shot from distance rolled harmlessly into the hands of UNC keeper Brendan Moore.

Carolina’s leading scorer Andy Craven added to his season total with his fourth goal at the 29:48 mark. Rob Lovejoy sent a pass from the right flank to Craven. He held off his defender, then turned and fired a shot into the lower left corner for a 2-0 Tar Heel advantage.

Moore made three saves on the night for his fourth consecutive clean sheet. The Tar Heels have not allowed a goal the entire month of September, or the last 419:12 of game action.

UNC led 19-7 in shots and 7-3 in corner kicks against the Tribe.

Carolina jumps back into ACC play at Duke on Friday at 7:00 p.m., and you can watch it on ESPN3.

Box Score

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/1-unc-mens-soccer-downs-william-mary-2-0/

Veteran Tar Heels Prepping UNC Youth for Saturday Showdown

The No. 25 UNC football team is busy preparing for the in-state showdown at East Carolina Saturday afternoon in Greenville. In particular, the veteran Tar Heels are mentally preparing the underclassmen for the hostility that awaits them in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

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It’s hard to forget the resounding ECU triumph over UNC in Chapel Hill a season ago.

The defense, especially took the loss hard, surrendering 55 points to the Pirate offense in ugly fashion for the fans in attendance at Kenan Stadium.

But senior safety Tim Scott says for his teammates, the slate is clean.

“As players, we already know what happened. There’s no need to keep on talking about it. It’s a new year, new team and new players. We’re just ready to play,” Scott says.

The ECU Pirates knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech last Saturday. (ECU Athletics)

The ECU Pirates knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech last Saturday. (ECU Athletics)

Senior leader and defensive tackle Ethan Farmer, who is tasked with anchoring a defensive line riddled with inexperience, says he expects a rowdy atmosphere in a few days’ time, but believes the Tar Heels will be up to the challenge.

“It’s a big-time game for us. We know it’s going to be extremely loud with their fans. It’s a good environment for us. We know it’s going to be a rivalry and a tough game. We’re ready for it,” Farmer says.

One of those underclassmen who will get his first taste of a road game environment will be freshman defensive lineman Tyler Powell.

Powell, a 285-pound Virginia native, says he was thrilled to find his name atop the depth chart in week one.

“It felt good to know that all the hard work I put in over training camp and even before I got here, paid off,” Powell says.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora, for one, has been impressed with Powell’s performance. Coach Fedora says he’s confident in Powell’s ability to hold his own up front.

“The first week [vs. Liberty], he graded out the highest of the defensive linemen – that was his first college game. I think the kid is doing a really good job. He is really coming on. You’re talking about a young kid that’s playing in the interior, that’s a tough thing at this level,” Coach Fedora says.

Ethan Farmer (Courtesy of GoHeels.com)

Ethan Farmer (Courtesy of GoHeels.com)

Powell and the rest of the young starters will soak in a new experience Saturday afternoon in Greenville.

Scott says he’s been explaining to the guys what the sold-out stadium at ECU will feel like, but it’s important for the team to take care of what they can control – how they perform.

“We already heard this week that it’s a sold-out game. We told the younger guys to just be ready and don’t let the crowd get to them. It’s going to be a big game, and they’re going to play really good at home. As long as we play our game, we should be fine,” Scott says.

However, there’s only so much Scott and Farmer can tell teammates who have never actually waged battle on the road in an unfriendly venue.

At some point, these Tar Heels have to just jump out there and hear what it’s like to be booed. It’s a scary and unpredictable situation, but sometimes, trial by fire can turn out to be the best learning tool.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/veteran-tar-heels-prepping-unc-youth-saturday/

UNC Volleyball Climbs Four Spots After Classic Sweep

The UNC volleyball team jumped four spots in this week’s national rankings after sweeping its opponents in the Carolina Classic over the weekend.

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The AVCA Coaches’ voted the Tar Heels into the No. 13 spot after a hard-fought meeting with then-No. 16 Kentucky opened the weekend. The Tar Heels, then ranked No. 17, pulled off the five-set victory with a 16-14 final set. The Wildcats took sets two and three in dominating fashion (25-15 in each), but the Heels answered with a 25-13 set four to force the deciding set.

The weekend’s remaining games was a breeze comparatively as Carolina swept Georgia Southern and VCU on double-header Saturday.

UNC is 7-1 on the season and on a five-match winning streak after its 3-0 loss to Illinois in the Illini Classic on August 30.

The Tar Heels remain home this weekend for the ACC-Big 12 Classic. Oklahoma comes to town Friday, and Carolina hosts West Virginia on Saturday. Both matches begin at 6:00 p.m.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-volleyball-climbs-four-spots-classic-sweep/

Coach Fedora Relishing UNC-ECU Rivalry, Chance for Revenge

Game week is back for the Carolina football team. And with a trip down to Greenville to face East Carolina in Pirate country on tap for Saturday, head coach Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels know they will have to be at their best to emerge with a victory and improve to 3-0 on the season.

***Listen to the story***

The open bye week gave the UNC coaching staff the opportunity to go back to the basics and preach the fundamentals. The Tar Heels were sloppy with penalties, defensive assignments and tackles for large portions of their wins in the opening two contests.

Coach Fedora says he thought his team, loaded with an infusion of freshmen and sophomores, profited greatly from the refresher courses in practice at Navy Field.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get more reps and hopefully, become more comfortable. When it will slow down for them, I don’t know. Last year, it took a while for all those young kids. I don’t know when that will take place for them. But I thought it was good to have the open week at this point. It gave us some time to get back to the fundamentals,” Coach Fedora says.

But the tune-up time is over. Game week is in full swing for the Tar Heels.

The Pirates are coming off an impressive 28-21 upset over the then-No. 17 Virginia Tech Hokies at Blacksburg – a place few opponents walk out of on the right side of the scoreboard.

The ECU Pirates knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech last Saturday. (ECU Athletics)

The ECU Pirates knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech last Saturday. (ECU Athletics)

So with an in-state rivalry contest against an in-form opponent upcoming in a hostile environment, Carolina will no doubt face a stern test. Coach Fedora says the regional matchups featuring ravenous fan bases only add to the excitement.

“When you’re talking about an in-state team, the good part about it is the regional rivalry. The fans love it – both sides. They don’t like the other side,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora and Lucas Crowley (Elliott Rubin)

Coach Fedora and Lucas Crowley (Elliott Rubin)

Coach Fedora says game weeks like these are what make college football so special.

“That’s good for college football. I think it’s good. It gives your fans something to talk about all year. It’s something to talk about up to the game and after the game. I think it’s a good thing,” Coach Fedora says.

Saturday will offer a chance at some sweet revenge for the Tar Heels. A season ago, Carolina suffered a humiliating 55-31 home loss in Chapel Hill.

Coach Fedora says he doesn’t have to remind his team about last year’s debacle in Kenan Stadium.

“You really don’t have to say anything. These guys don’t forget things like that. I’m sure in a lot of their minds; it will be a factor for them. It will be something that internally motivates them. But then you have other guys who are playing that had nothing to do with the game. It’s a game to them,” Coach Fedora says.

After opening their season in the cozy comforts of home, the schedule turns tough for the Tar Heels, with five of their next seven games coming on the road.

As Coach Fedora always says, UNC will be taking it one step at time, just trying to go 1-0 each week. But given last year, if Carolina is somehow able to go 1-0 at the end of play on Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, it may feel more like two wins for the price of one.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/coach-fedora-relishing-unc-ecu-rivalry-chance-revenge/

UNC Men’s Soccer Takes Over No. 1 In CSN Poll

The UNC men’s soccer team surpassed the only team it has fallen to this season and now sits in the top spot in the nation, according to a recent poll.

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College Soccer News ranked North Carolina No. 1 in the nation Monday after its 3-0 ACC win against Pittsburgh on Friday in Chapel Hill.

That win propelled the Tar Heels past the former No. 1, UCLA Bruins, who the Heels lost to, 1-0 in the Carolina Nike Classic on August 31.

The Bruins’ recent scoring woes helped contribute to the shift: UCLA is coming off a pair of 0-0 ties to Santa Clara and Cal Poly over the weekend.

Notre Dame held the No. 2 spot before Monday’s poll but fell to No. 4 after a 1-0 loss to Kentucky last Monday. Washington sits in the No. 3 spot, moving up two; Virginia rounds out the top five falling one spot.

The Tar Heels are back on the road and out of conference play Tuesday against William and Mary. That game can be seen on NSCAATV with the kickoff scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-mens-soccer-takes-1-csn-poll/

UNC Making The Most of Bye Week

The No. 25 North Carolina football team won’t have to game plan for an opponent on Saturday, but the Tar Heels have been working hard nonetheless in their bye week. For some players, that means a chance to get back fully fit, while for others it provides the opportunity to hone their skills.

***Listen to the story***

Junior wide receiver T.J. Thorpe has been sidelined with a left ankle injury so far this season, but Thorpe says he’s taking it all in stride and knows his return to competition is not all under his control.

“At this point, it’s nothing to worry about. It’s out of my hands. I’m a big person of faith. It’s God’s will. If He wants me to continue to play, I’m going to play. If not, I’ll know it,” Thorpe says.

WR T.J. Thorpe hauls in a  TD pass (Elliott Rubin)

WR T.J. Thorpe hauls in a TD pass (Elliott Rubin)

But with the bye week aiding the healing of his ankle, Thorpe is harboring hopes of lining up with the Tar Heel offense next weekend at East Carolina.

“I don’t know what Coach Fedora has to say, but for me personally, I have every intention of playing against ECU. I told the staff that it’s my goal. Hopefully, that will be attainable,” Thorpe says.

Despite the obvious frustration of not being able to help his team with his athletic prowess on the field,  Thorpe has been contributing in other ways.

Thorpe was credited by multiple players after the San Diego State win for his encouraging words on the sidelines and for rallying the team to lift its level when trailing to the Aztecs. Head coach Larry Fedora, for one, certainly took notice.

“If you watch film, watch T.J. Thorpe and those guys on that sideline, they sweated through everything they had. They were energetic and pumped up on that sideline. They were doing everything they could possibly do to help their teammates. I’m really proud of the way they responded and what they did throughout the game,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the sliver linings resulting from Thorpe’s injury may be the emergence of sophomore receiver Mack Hollins, who has carded a touchdown in each of the first two games in 2014.

Coach Fedora says Hollins is now an integral component of the UNC offense.

“The guy can make plays for us all the time. He’s really come on. He understands everything, so we can put him in a lot of different places to help us out. Mack is going to help us all year,” Coach Fedora says.

Sophomore center Lucas Crowley says the open week has allowed his teammates to perfect their responsibilities and become a more cohesive unit.

“These two weeks is going to help. It gives us an extra seven days to be able to go over the film and look at what each guy is doing – what blitz they are going to do and what they show. It will help out a lot,” Crowley says.

UNC O-linemen Caleb Peterson and John Ferranto team up with TE Jack Tabb on the strong side. (Elliott Rubin)

UNC O-linemen Caleb Peterson and John Ferranto team up with TE Jack Tabb on the strong side. (Elliott Rubin)

Crowley says the most growth on the UNC offensive line has come from a leadership standpoint. He says everybody now recognizes the vital role they play.

“Leadership is starting to come along. In the beginning at camp, everybody’s looking at Landon [Turner], because he’s the most experienced guy. But now, everybody is starting to realize that we can’t just rely on Landon. Landon’s even telling us that sometimes he needs us. Everybody’s stepping up,” Crowley says.

The Tar Heels certainly know they’ll need to step up when they hit the road to face the ECU Pirates next weekend.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-making-bye-week/