Famine or feast. That was how this game felt for both teams really but for UNC especially. This one was a tough loss to swallow but even more so because UNC had Connor Barth on the field to kick a 52 yard FG with 55 seconds left and then botched the snap. I detest losing that way. I can stomach a loss like this much better had Barth simply missed the FG and then watched ECU come down field to win the game or lose in OT. However, if I stay true to my theory that wins are not nearly as important this season as improving multiple facets in the program then this game was a great step in that direction. There was still a lot of mystery surrounding this team after the JMU win since the Dukes are a I-AA school and I think most of us wanted to see how UNC performed against a good I-A opponent on the road. In my opinion, despite the loss, this UNC team performed very well. At the same time it was an up-and-down evening with some good and some bad all the way around.
Famine: The running game.
This has to get better or the passing game is going to suffer. No one tailback has emerged as the dominant runner though Johnny White made some key plays prior to the botched FG snap at the end of the game. However the running game was weak and I am not sure it is going to get much better.
Feast: The passing game.
Through two games I have been completely wrong that the QB position would be limited. T.J. Yates is extremely effective. Butch Davis was adamant that he was interested in finding a QB who would limit mistakes even if he did not make the “big” play. Well it looks like Yates can play with few mistakes AND make big plays. Yates has only two INTs this season and one fumbled snap tonight while lighting up two different secondaries in as many weeks. I am continually impressed by the poise he shows in the pocket and the fact he seems to recover well from throwing an INT or short hopping a pass. Yates did end up getting sacked three times but considering that was one less than what the ECU defense got on the Hokie offensive line I will take it. As for big plays, we seem to have nothing but big plays. This passing attack with Yates throwing accurately and the speed found in the combination of Tate, Nicks and Foster has created an impressive quick strike passing attack that quite frankly surprises me beyond words at this point.
Famine: Pressuring the QB and pass coverage.
I am not sure to what extent the secondary can be blamed for Patrick Pinkney’s absolute surgical shredding of the UNC defense given he was never really pressured by the UNC front seven. The Pirate offensive line did a great job giving Pinkney time to do whatever he wanted and the longer a QB has to throw the harder it is for the secondary to cover the opposing receivers. Of course I am making this evaluation based on listening to the radio. For all I know the secondary was blowing coverage all over the field on top of the fact Pinkney had all the time in the world. I suspect that is not the case and Pinkney’s mobility make the task of sacking him, which UNC did twice, much harder.
Feast: Clutch stops and run defense
ECU had a total of 64 yards rushing, 20 of those belonged to Pinkney. UNC handled the ECU running game for the most part even though the Pirate offensive line was handling the UNC front seven. And for all of the consistent success Pinkney had throwing the ball, UNC did come up with some big defensive stops which led to missed FGs. In the end it would seem the “feast” on defensive was not an “all you can eat buffet” kind of deal but enough to be plenty optimistic going forward.
Feast: Punting and returns
Terrence Brown was effective putting ECU back inside the 20 with his leg. Brown only ended up averaging 38 yards a punt but ECU only had 18 yards total on punt returns. ECU ended starting several drives with their backs to their own goalposts due to Brown’s punting a good coverage work. On returns, Brandon Tate tied Charlie Justice for the school record in career returns for a TD with his fifth here. Everyone knew it was coming at some point and we can only hope we see it again at least a few more times over the next 10 games. Kickoff returns were good as well averaging 27 yards a return.
Famine: FG/PAT kicking and kickoff coverage
There is no way to describe how bad things went on kickoffs. The whole evening of kickoff shenanigans was summed up with the sequence following the third UNC TD when Barth attempted an onside kick and UNC recovered it. Unfortunately UNC was offsides and on the rekick ECU returned the ball 55 yards which concluded with a late hit penalty on UNC. That was pretty much how the night went. This incident and the 63 yard kickoff return by ECU following the Tate return for a TD were both momentum killers. UNC did not give up points on either but it made the defense work harder. The kicking game had similar issues. Barth missed a second PAT in as many weeks. In this case it may have been touched by a Pirate defender which speaks to blocking. However, the real tough one was the botched snap on the potential game winner Barth never got a chance to kick. On one hand, these things do happen but coming on the heels of so many other special teams failures and the fact you are dealing with clean snap on a dry field it is really a play that should be made.
When the gun sounded the botched snap was essentially one of several missed opportunities. The silver lining to that is as players get more experienced, the present coaching staff should be able to get this team to a point where they take advantage of those chances more times than not.