This was a very entertaining game. Both teams played extremely well offensively, but there were enough weird plays on special teams in the second half to make the Church Lady blush.
On to the Heels’ breakdown.
- Brandon Tate was insane. Simply insane. In the entire game he touched the ball only nine times (3 receptions, 3 kick returns, and 3 punt returns. The result? 263 all-purpose yards and 3 touchdowns, or roughly 29 yards per touch and a touchdown for every three touches. Tate has really flourished under the new system, and once again shows me that the talent on this team was underachieving while Bunting was head coach.
- T.J. Yates is the best quarterback in the ACC. I’m just as shocked as you are, but that’s what the statistics say. Yates is the conference leader in passing efficiency (191.2), yards per attempt (11.2) and yards per game (281), tied for 2nd in passing touchdowns (6), and 3rd in touchdown-to-interception ratio (3:1). On the downside, he received his first three career sacks courtesy of the Pirates. Of course he’s only played two games, one of which was a 1-AA opponent, but UNC seems to have a truly effective quarterback for the first time since Darian Durant.
- We have some very, very good receivers. The aforementioned Tate, who was already a special teams star, had 3 receptions for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns, which puts him atop the ACC in receiving yards and touchdowns after having caught…five passes. Only one receiver since 2004, Hakeem Nicks last year, caught more than 3 touchdown passes for an entire season. Nicks added 77 yards and a touchdown on 6 receptions, and Bobby Rome and Johnny White combined for over 100 yards receiving out of the backfield.
- Nice to see that the passing game is working: Because the running game was still our major offensive weakpoint. In our first two games, UNC’s running-back-by-committee have averaged 89.5 yards, 95th in the nation. (Conversely, UNC’s passing game is 20th in the nation at 285.5 ypg.)
- Your timing is just impeccable: Having given our offense sufficient praise, they played a part in Saturady’s loss. They played well as a whole, but fell prey to poor execution at the worst possible time.
- With less than a minute to go in the second half, UNC was in the hurry-up offense trying to extend a slim 3-point lead when Yates threw an interception at midfield. East Carolina drove into the red zone and kicked the tying field goal before halftime.
- Then in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Heels were driving down the field into ECU territory with a chance to break the 31-31 tie, having been very fortunate that East Carolina’s field goal had just hit the post. Yates threw a nice pass to Nicks for a first down, but he then fumbled the ball and East Carolina recovered, with good field position, and with less than 7 minutes on the clock.
- After ECU managed to miss another potential game-winning FG, UNC was once again driving down the field, this time with a help of an effective running game. With a minute and a half remaining, the Heels were on 2nd down and 4 at the 34 yard line. T.J. Yates fumbled on the QB/center exchange, and was forced to fall on it.
- The fumble was a wasted play, but the way UNC had been driving down the field all night, 3rd and five just out of field goal range was a very makable conversion. Instead of going to the air, Yates handed it off to Johnny White, who was stopped at the line for no gain.
Four mistakes on offense, none of which were the botched 52-yard FG attempt, which was fairly unrealistic to make anyway. If the Heels had converted any one of these plays, we would probably be 2-0.
- Patrick Pinkney made us look really, really bad. UNC effectively stopped the run, but Pinkney lit up the secondary, completing nearly 75% of his passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns. When one considers that he was ECU’s third-string quarterback coming into the season…well, it just wasn’t a very good day for our defense.
- A few stats:
- East Carolina held the ball for 36:08 of the game.
- The Heels forced 3 turnovers (and had opportunities for a few more) in their opener against James Madison. The didn’t force any on Saturday, and lost the turnover battle to the Pirates 2-0.
- ECU converted seven of their 16 third down attempts (44%).
- ECU put up 470 yards of offense in 75 plays, averaging roughly 6.5 yards per play.
- The Pirates were held to 7 points and 261 yards against the Virginia Tech defense. This past Saturday, LSU put up 48 points and 598 yards against the exact same Virginia Tech defense.
Needless to say, the UNC defense had a rough night.
- Don’t you have anything nice to say about the defense? Two of our defenders who performed well in this game were LB Durell Mapp and DT Kentwan Balmer. Mapp had 11 tackles and Balmer recorded two tackles for loss, including half of a sack with Hilee Taylor. Marvin Austin started for the first time in his career; he had one tackle for loss. And for all of the defensive struggle, the D did play well on occasion, forcing the Pirates to punt 6 times.
- Many happy returns: As I said before, Brandon Tate was unbelievable in this game. He returned six kicks and punts for 161 yards, an average of nearly 27 yards per return. The Pirates had a few good returns of their own; a 63 yard kick return led to a touchdown in the second half, and ECU started their average drive on their own 41 yard line. It’s a lot less difficult to score with a short field; say all you want about our defense, but the kickoff coverage team didn’t help them at all.
- A day your kicker would like to forget: There were five botched kicks on the night. Connor Barth missed an extra point in the third quarter (although UNC converted the 2-point plat on the next TD), and he didn’t get the chance to kick a 52-yard game winner; his holder, Ryan Baucom, couldn’t handle the snap. Meanwhile, East Carolina’s Ben Hartman missed thee field goal from inside of 40 yards. But he made the two field goals that were the difference in this game: the one off of the interception to tie the game before halftime, and the 39-yarder to win it as time expired.
Final thoughts: T.J. Yates and UNC’s receivers will be a lot of fun to watch this year, and they should keep us in a lot of games. There are still two big question marks with this team. Can the defense step up when facing good opposition, and can the team avoid making costly mental mistakes? We should find out a lot more about this team when they open their ACC schedule against Virginia this Saturday.