UNC Football: ECU Scouting Report


North Carolina will travel to Greenville to take on the East Carolina Pirates this weekend for the Tar Heels’ third game of the season.  ECU is coming off of a terrific win against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where they fended off the Hokies 28-21, and ended Virginia Tech’s “honeymoon”, after beating Ohio State, early.

According to ESPN NCAAF Daily Lines, the point spread is 5 in favor of East Carolina.  Given the Heels’ unexpectedly tough games early in the season against rather less-talented opponents, and the Pirates’ success against nationally ranked teams, five points can even be considered generous.

The Pirates began their season by taking care of business against the UNC Central Eagles 52-7 in Greenville.

They then proceeded to march onto South Carolina’s home turf and lose a close one to the Gamecocks.  Even with the loss, the Pirates looked impressive against a top SEC opponent and unfazed by a famously formidable 80,000 Gamecock crowd.   Shane Carden emerged on the big stage, going 32 for 46 for 321 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Then came week three; the game that has defined the Pirates up until this point.  East Carolina dominated the first quarter, outscoring the Hokies 21-0, and outgaining them by 199 yards of total offense (205-6).  Virginia Tech climbed back into the game, but Carden sealed the heartbreaker by running in a touchdown with 16 seconds remaining in the game.

The East Carolina Pirates are arguably the best football team in the state of North Carolina.  But how can an American Athletic Conference team with a one-dimensional offense possibly stay in games against these major conference opponents?  What is it that makes the Pirates so dangerous?

Easy Answer:  QB Shane Carden

The 6’2, 221-pound Senior has essentially done it all for the ECU offense this year.  So far, he has thrown for 1031 yards and 7 touchdowns, and added one rushing touchdown to cap off the upset against Virginia Tech.

He has accounted for over 75% of the team’s total yards, and scored 8 of the Pirates’ 13 touchdowns.

What really makes this North Carolina team pay attention to him, however, is his recent history of rolling over the Tar Heel defense.   In 2013, Carden threw for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns and added three more touchdowns rushing.  The Pirates possessed the ball for 36 minutes and ended up crushing the Heels 55-31 in Chapel Hill.

Underrated Answer: ECU Defense

While this defense isn’t particularly great at causing turnovers (4 on the season; tied for 75th in turnover margin), they have a group of relentless, fearless defensive linemen that can stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback.

Terry Williams, ECU nose tackle, had a solid game against Virginia Tech, being a constant force finishing with multiple tackles for loss.  Check out this post which outlines Terry Williams and his role in the ECU defense.

Overall, the East Carolina defense looks solid, and seems to have most of its success against run-first teams.  The Pirates held the Hokies to just 91 yards of rushing yards, only allowing 2.8 yards a carry.  Look for the Heels to utilize quick, short passes to mollify the ECU D-Line impact.

What to expect from both teams:

Coming off of a productive bye week according to Larry Fedora, the Heels will be ready for the surging Pirates.  Unlike in previous weeks, however, the Heels will not be able to save themselves in the second half, especially against a team that dominates and explodes out to big leads within the first twenty minutes of the game.

Of course, give the Heels some credit.  They have a better record this year than the Pirates, and have a more talented and well-rounded team.  And even with Carden playing at his best and the defensive line wreaking havoc, the Heels have no reason to not expect anything less than ending East Carolina’s “honeymoon” early.