- Associated Press - Friday, September 19, 2014

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Shane Carden believes East Carolina’s offense will move the ball against anyone. His Pirates have no reason to doubt that against North Carolina heading into Saturday’s matchup.

The Pirates rolled to 603 yards and 55 points on the Tar Heels in last year’s blowout victory, a performance that has hung with UNC’s suspect defense ever since. If the Tar Heels don’t do something to frustrate Carden, the Pirates could have another big performance.

“We’re going to go out there and try to exploit what they give us and exploit their weaknesses,” the quarterback said. “They’re a very athletic group, but I said last week … I think my receivers are the best in the country and I’m confident throwing them the ball.”

The Pirates (2-1) are coming off a road upset of then-No. 17 Virginia Tech, a game that saw ECU blow a 21-0 lead before scoring a last-second touchdown to win.

It marked East Carolina’s third straight win against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents, a run which started with that dominating performance in Chapel Hill last September.

“They got us with tempo, they completed passes, they were able to run the football, they were able to score at will,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “It was pretty much they had their will last year.”

This time, the Pirates will have a sellout home crowd waiting for the Tar Heels (2-0), whose defense has been among the nation’s best at forcing turnovers but had tackling problems two weeks ago against San Diego State.

This game starts a demanding stretch for UNC, which travels to No. 22 Clemson, hosts Virginia Tech then travels to No. 9 Notre Dame in the next three games.

“It should be a fun atmosphere to play in,” Fedora said. “It ought to be a heck of a game. Everybody ought to look forward to games like this.”


Things to watch when the Pirates host the Tar Heels:

ECU’S WIDEOUTS: Carden’s favorite target is Justin Hardy, who is on pace to set the career receptions record for the bowl subdivision. But Carden will throw elsewhere when defenses key on Hardy. Last week that meant finding Cam Worthy for six catches for 224 yards. “It’s really not what they play,” Worthy said. “It’s how we execute.”

TAR HEEL TACKLING: Fedora said the Tar Heels missed 34 tackles in the San Diego State win. That led to a healthy dose of tackling drills through their bye week and into this week, with associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning saying the team did more tackle-to-the-ground drills last week. “Obviously there was some work we needed to do,” linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “I think that will show.”

KEEP PRESSING THE GAS: If East Carolina gets another strong start, the Pirates can’t afford to stall like they did to help Virginia Tech get back in last week’s game. “The thing we did last year is we were able to sustain it,” offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said of jumping to 14-0 and 35-10 leads in the last meeting against UNC. “We did that decent but it’s a whole new ballgame.”

UNC’S OFFENSE: The Tar Heels’ offense has been hit and miss so far. Former walk-on receiver Mack Hollins has provided some big-play TD catches, but UNC hasn’t found a lead runner in a crowded backfield featuring sophomore T.J. Logan and touted freshman Elijah Hood.

PRIDE FACTOR: Several Tar Heels have talked in recent months about last year’s ECU matchup - sometimes without being asked. That 55-31 loss stood as the Pirates’ first win in Chapel Hill since 1975 and something UNC’s defense hasn’t forgotten. “If we’re not motivated after they embarrassed us last year,” safety Tim Scott said, “then we shouldn’t show up.”


Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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