For a good hour and a half of early-game football on Saturday, the UNC Tar Heels appeared to have, if not righted, at least pointed their ship in the right direction.
The Tar Heels scored on five of their six first-half possessions, Antonio Williams was picking up chunk yards on the ground, and Nathan Elliott looked competent through the air. They were down at the half but only by two and went into the locker room having outgained East Carolina by nearly fifty yards.
Other than a few boneheaded penalties, the only smear on the Heels’ first half was the ejection of Williams for an incidental helmet-to-helmet penalty. Beyond that, Heels fans were right to feel at least a tinge of optimism.
But then the teams emerged from the locker room and played two entirely different games.
Carolina’s offense, recalling their first-week performance at Cal, became wholly ineffective, picking up only a handful of first downs and punting or turning the ball over on downs on five consecutive possessions. Carolina’s defense, which was week one’s only highlight, all but laid down, allowing the Pirates to pile up over five hundred yards of offense. And everyone seemed to turn their brains off as yellow flags littered the field on seemingly every play.
Having lost at home last week to FCS (formerly D-1AA) opponent North Carolina A&T, ECU was in as dire need of a win as the Heels. The difference was, the Pirates appeared to have actually known that fact, and, despite being cast as one of the worst teams in America at the onset of this season, they actually played enlivened football on the back end of the game.
That they handled Carolina with such ease is more of an indictment of Larry Fedora’s team than it is a celebration of ECU.
Fedora, usually something of a firebrand, grew more and more subdued as the game wore on, almost resigned to a certain fate, almost appearing to have given up. An on-field miscue or a pointless penalty—transgressions usually met at the sideline by a screaming head ball coach—were just more stains on an already wasted season that two weeks in shows little signs of being slightly redemptive.
Fedora fixing all that ails his program is less likely than his being in Chapel Hill at the start of next season, but there are still many football games left to be played. His team was scheduled to host last year’s unofficial national champions (and the INDY editor’s alma mater), the eighteenth-ranked University of Central Florida, but Hurricane Florence put the kibosh on that. And frankly, for Fedora and company, that’s probably just as well.
The Score: ECU 41–19
The Hero: It could have been Antonio Williams, who racked up almost one hundred first-half rushing yards.
The Highlight: The run game?
The Stat: Carolina’s defense has given up 166 points to ECU in their last three meetings
The Goat: Larry Fedora, who still has a job why?
The Record: 0-2