So many times I have heard coaches say “this is the most important game of the season for us”, when in reality it was not. This time it’s my turn to utter those over used words about a game, not knowing if the staff for the North Carolina football squad thinks the same way as I do. This afternoon, with kick off at 3:30 p.m. EST (televised on ESPNU and Watch ESPN), when UNC hosts in state foe ECU, for the Tar Heels this is going to be the most important game of the young Fedora era, and one they must win at all costs. Carolina must also win next week, versus Idaho, to go into the meat of the schedule with an above .500 record, but we will talk about that when the time comes. For now back to today’s match up, where head coach Larry Fedora must get this team ready to take on the Pirates, an 14.5 points underdog team with nothing to lose and all to gain, and beat them… convincingly. This will be the 15th time these two programs have met, with Carolina holding a 11-2-1 lead in the series, including 42 to 17 and 35 to 20 wins in 2010 and `11. Carolina needs to keep that supremacy going in this game as well.
Sure, the Tar Heels are at 1 and 2 right now, but truth be told, a couple of things go right in both of their last two games and this squad, playing without their starting running back and two of the better wide outs, could be a perfect 3 and 0. However seasons are not played on what ifs or moral victories, and with nothing to fight for once the season is done, this squad can ill afford to enter conference play on a losing record. And that is why this is the most important game for the new regime in Chapel Hill.
Here are my keys for this game…
Rack’Em Up Renner. Behind the arm of the junior quarterback (63 for 101 with 870 yards, 9 TDs & 3 INTs) UNC has the 19th best scoring offense (41.0 ppg) and best 21st passing offense (305.0 ypg) in the country. Renner & Co. will be facing a team in ECU that is 111th in passing defense (310.0 ypg) and 85th in total defense (423.67 ypg) nationally. In this game the Tar Heels need to strike hard, often and not step off the gas pedal until the game in well in hand. Renner, just like in the first game of the year, needs to target as many team mates and spread the ball around so that the Pirates can not double team the few experienced Heels wide outs. The gunslinger also needs to stay away from costly turnovers and be the captain and leader of this offense by making the right decisions at the right time. The offensive line, an asset for this season but has had some kinks in the armor of late, has to keep their man in the pocket protected and give him the time needed to find and hit his targets. Food for thought, against a Top 25 opponent, when Renner got the time he threw for 5 touchdowns, against ECU, if given that same time he could probably do even more damage.
Romar was not built in a day. But redshirt freshman can sure pile up as many yards possible in one game. With the status of Giovani Bernard still unsure and with the fact that the Morris has proven his worth on the field, the combo of Brenner/Morris worked well in the Bluegrass State, should work just as well (if not better) in the friendly confine of Kenan Stadium against ECU. Between Morris and A.J. Blue they have done a good job replacing Bernard, even if both of the games that they have done so were losses. Now, against the Pirates, their efforts could mean a W for the team.
“They’re going to come in here into our house and they’re going to want to take something from us,” Fedora said. “That means you step up and show what you’re made of.”
Do not play it down. While North Carolina has nothing to play for once the season is over, East Carolina seems to always want this game a bit more. This is a rivalry game, the team as a whole needs to understand and embrace this, end of story. The coaching staff must get the team ready to play the game as though the Pirates were an ACC foe and with a win the Heels would play spoiler to their bowl bid. How many times have I seen this game (or the ones that ECU might play against other ACC teams in this state) being thought of as big brother vs lil brother. East Carolina’s program takes that to heart and wants to win this type of game each time they have the opportunity. The staff gets up for this game, the team does and so do their fans. UNC needs to shut ECU down from the get go, smashing all hopes of the visitors winning. As I always say about major under dogs, the more you let them stick around, the more they think they belong there, the more they the believe they can win the game. This game, just like the Elon one, has to be over by half time.
In the end this is going to be one of those games that in someway you will see from the first play (or drive) who really wants it. Does that mean that who wants it will win it? Not necessarily, but it is going to show how much a team that had a horrible half and then almost pulled out a win against a Top 25 squad can now bounce back against an inferior opponent. The Tar Heels are over two touchdowns favorite in this one (14.5 pts) and I say they will not just cover, they will be well over than, with the final score being 45 to 24. But be warned, after a loss like they had to Louisville, if North Carolina comes out not focused this could be your proverbial trap game for them!
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