After a tough loss in Atlanta, the Tar Heels return home on Saturday to face the East Carolina Pirates in their fourth game of the season. The Heels are 1-2 on the season, 0-1 in the ACC, and face ECU before traveling up to Blacksburg to face ACC foe Virginia Tech. The ECU Pirates are 2-1 on the season, already having played two teams on UNC’s schedule later in the season. ECU beat Old Dominion and Florida Atlantic before falling to the Virginia Tech Hokies 15-10. For reference, the Pirates were selected by Conference USA coaches over Middle Tennessee State and others as the winner of the East Division in C-USA. The last time UNC played ECU was last season, when the Tar Heels rode a seven sack performance by the defense and Bryn Renner’s 321 yards in the air to a 27-6 win. UNC is hoping for a similar result this season against the Pirates.
ECU features a very pass heavy offense, led by junior quarterback Shane Carden. Carden was a preseason second team Conference USA candidate by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele’s preview magazine, and has thrown for eight touchdowns already this year. ECU’s offense does throw the ball well, but really struggles running the football. This season, the Pirates have averaged just 2.4 yards per attempt on the ground. UNC knows this and will game plan accordingly for Saturday, worrying a lot more about the passing game of ECU and putting more nickel and dime packages in accordingly. Here is a closer look at ECU’s skill position players on offense.
Name to know- Shane Carden
Stat to know- Against Virginia Tech’s defense, Carden’s raw QBR rating was just 8.4 on a scale of 0-100
Carden is a good quarterback on a good team with lots of offensive assets. Athlon Sports rated East Carolina’s OL as first, QB as second, and WR/TE as second in their unit rankings for Conference USA. Combined with a pass happy offense, (not kidding, Carden threw the ball 54 times against Old Dominion,) Carden’s numbers are going to look good. UNC’s defense will have to pressure the quarterback and get him to move outside the pocket, like they did to MTSU QB Logan Kilgore. If Carden has time to operate in the pocket, he could pick apart UNC’s weak secondary. UNC can’t afford to underestimate ECU’s Carden, otherwise the game could end up being a lot closer than it should be.
Name to know- Vintavious Cooper
Stat to know- Cooper ran for over 1000 yards on 5.2 yards per attempt last season.
Cooper and really the entire ECU running game has gotten off to a slow start so far this season. As mention above, the Pirates are averaging 2.4 yards per attempt on the ground. You aren’t going to win many football games against ACC caliber opponents with such a weak running game. ACC defenses can attack on one dimensional offenses, but Vintavious Cooper is due for a breakout game this season. Cooper’s running might even be the whole key to the game for ECU. If the Pirates can get Cooper running early, and gain about 4 or 5 yards per attempt in the first half, it will force UNC to alter their game-plan at halftime. This will open up the play action passing game for Shane Carden and the ECU offense.
Name to know- Justin Hardy, Davon Grayson
ECU generally starts four wide receivers on offense, with the group led by junior Justin Hardy. Hardy has 258 receiving yards this season, the most on the team. Freshman Davon Grayson leads the team in touchdowns with four. UNC’s secondary will have to watch out for all ECU’s receivers, an experienced and talented group for Coach Ruffin McNeil. In addition to the wide outs catching the ball, running back Vintavious Cooper is also active in the passing game. Cooper has tallied 115 yards so far this season, so UNC will have to be careful not to loose Cooper as he slips out of the backfield on check downs and wheel routes.