(RNN) – The North Carolina Tar Heels specialize in spreading out their offense, wearing down opponents with a fast pace and throwing downfield.
On Saturday, they face a team from North Carolina who likes to spread out its offense, wear down opponents with a fast pace and throw downfield.
"We're going to have to play really well on defense," said UNC head coach Larry Fedora on Wednesday. "Obviously, it starts with getting pressure on the quarterback. We're going to have to get some pressure on the quarterback, but you've really got to stop the run.
"You've got to stop the run and make them one-dimensional … They're going to get the ball out in space, and you're going to be in one-on-one situations a lot of times, so we have to get a lot of guys running to the football, playing hard, and if we do that, we've got a chance."
The East Carolina Pirates (2-1) travel the 111.2 miles from Greenville, NC, to Chapel Hill for the intrastate, out-of-conference contest with the ACC's Heels (1-2). In another similarity for the teams, both are coming off losses where they got out to a quick lead but couldn't hold on.
North Carolina built a 20-7 lead early in the second quarter at Georgia Tech but failed to score again. Tech started off slow but eventually got its option offense rolling in the second half, and the Yellow Jackets doubled the time of possession by game's end.
Tar Heels QB Bryn Renner found tight end Eric Ebron several times over the middle in the first half, including once for a touchdown, but could not get him the ball after the defense adjusted. They also had a holding call that wiped out an 82-yard TD pass among their unforced errors.
The Pirates moved the ball swiftly down the field and scored in their opening drive against Virginia Tech. They found little success after that, though, finishing with a season-low 204 yards and falling 15-10 to the Hokies.
The Conference USA squad has made an effort to keep some resemblance of balance (79 rushing attempts, 115 passing) but has gained more than 80 percent of its yardage through the air. Junior QB Shane Carden, a second-year starter, has a good working relationship with wideout Justin Hardy, who has caught 26 passes for 258 yards through three games.
Leading rusher Vintavious Cooper also has shown he can be a factor in the ECU passing game with 12 catches this season, and freshman Davon Grayson leads the team in TD grabs with four.
The Pirates will be without starting nose tackle Terry Williams, who the team suspended indefinitely for a policy violation. Cornerback Josh Hawkins is questionable for the game after suffering a concussion and being taken off the field by stretcher in the Virginia Tech matchup.
On the Tar Heel defense, linebacker Norkeithus Otis has started to develop into a difference maker. The junior leads the team with 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He also caused two fumbles in the Georgia Tech game.
Renner to Ebron will continue to be a main facet of the UNC offense, and Romar Morris has shown the speed to break long runs from out of the backfield. Fedora may also try to get 6'4" receivers Quinshad Davis and Mark McNeill more involved, too.
Series: UNC owns a 12-2-1 all-time record against ECU, including a 27-6 win in 2012.
The Yellow Jackets (3-0) can keep a defense on the field for long periods of time with its tough running game. Defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu possesses elite pass rushing skills and will be looking to make an introduction with Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas – maybe more than once.
The Hokies (3-1) have relied on a strong all-around defense to pick up close victories in the last two weeks against non-conference foes. In this matchup of Coastal Division teams, they will need running back Trey Edmunds to lead the offense in their own attempt at keepaway to prevent a high-scoring affair.
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