Tar Heels visit Pirates in 2nd road game to open season
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina started the year with a cross-country trip that ended with a loss amid a flurry of turnovers and penalties. The Tar Heels know they have to fix those problems when they travel to East Carolina on Saturday.
The Tar Heels (0-1) racked up 13 penalties for 124 yards while committing four turnovers in last weekend’s 24-17 loss at California, putting them near the bottom of the early Bowl Subdivision national statistics in those categories. They also had a terrible offensive start in the Cal game, trailing 24-3 before making a frantic comeback to get close late.
That sent coach Larry Fedora into the week’s practices with a long to-do list with the Tar Heels trying to avoid a second straight 0-2 start.
“We’re pointing out the good and the bad,” Fedora said, adding: “You’d like to learn from those mistakes with a win. It’s a better feeling than doing it the other way.”
The offensive struggles were the most pressing concern, particularly considering that’s long been a high-scoring strength through Fedora’s seventh-year tenure. But the Tar Heels couldn’t get much going up front or with their running game, while Nathan Elliott threw four interceptions.
The Tar Heels are playing two true road games to open the season for the first time since 2001.
“When you go out on the road, you’ve got to get comfortable in that uncomfortable setting. And you’ve got to be able to perform even when the environment is against you.”
The Tar Heels will face a rowdy crowd in Greenville, where the Pirates (0-1) have long savored facing — and frequently beating — their power-conference in-state neighbors. And East Carolina will be particularly desperate after losing to Championship Subdivision opponent North Carolina A&T last weekend, which has only increased the pressure on third-year coach Scottie Montgomery (6-19 at ECU) to show progress.
Asked if he considered this to be the most important game of his coaching career, Montgomery responded directly: “Yes, there’s no question about it. We’re not going to run from it.”
“Every single coach that you’d ask, the game that they’re coaching is the most critical one of their careers,” he said. “But this one, for all of the reasons that’s connected to it, is very critical for our career.”
Here are things to know about Saturday’s UNC-ECU game:
The Tar Heels announced last month that 13 players would miss games due to NCAA secondary violations for selling team-issued shoes. Ten UNC players will miss this game, including quarterback Chazz Surratt (his second in a four-game suspension) and starting defensive end Malik Carney. Carney played at Cal but will begin his four-game suspension Saturday after the NCAA approved a school request to stagger some penalties that hit multiple players at one position.
PIRATES VS. THE ACC
East Carolina has won six of the past eight games against Atlantic Coast Conference teams dating to September 2013, including four straight against instate ACC teams UNC and North Carolina State.
The last time these teams met, the Pirates finished with 789 total yards in the 70-41 win in Greenville in 2014 — the most points and yards ever allowed by UNC. In a radio interview with the “David Glenn Show” this week, Fedora coyly said he didn’t remember anything about it. “Selective memory, that’s probably a pretty good way of putting it,” Fedora said after Wednesday’s practice. “I remember what I want to remember and block out the things that I want to block out.”
Elliott’s four interceptions against Cal came after he threw just two while starting the final three games last year. But Fedora said he wasn’t concerned about Elliott’s confidence. “Nathan’s pretty critical of himself,” he said. “He knows what mistakes were made. He knows what he has to do to improve. . He handles the good and the bad pretty much the same way, and that’s a pretty good characteristic for a quarterback.”