ECU vs UNC: Familiar foes

Photo taken by Nick Faulkner

Photo taken by Nick Faulkner

Saturday’s game at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill will feature two teams that know each other quite well.

Indeed, the North Carolina Tar Heels (1-2) and the ECU Pirates (2-1) have faced off in each of the last four seasons. But the level of familiarity goes back much further for both of their head coaches.

Larry Fedora, who is currently in his second season at Chapel Hill, spent the previous four years at Southern Miss (2008-2011) as its head coach.

During his stint in Hattiesburg, he split a pair of meetings with Ruffin McNeill’s Pirates – including a 44-43 home loss in which the Golden Eagles led ECU by 20 points in the first quarter.

Even before that, Fedora and McNeill crossed paths on multiple occasions in the Big 12 conference. Fedora was an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State (2005-2007), meanwhile, McNeill served in defensive capacities during his lengthy tenure at Texas Tech (2000-2009). In their three head-to-head matchups, Fedora’s offenses averaged about 32 points, which helped the Cowboys to a pair of wins.

“Larry and I have known each other for a long time from the Oklahoma State days in the Big 12 and the Southern Miss days,” said McNeill. “Larry has always been a really good football coach, and an offensive minded coach and he has really evolved, but his offense has not changed…they’re going to be fast-paced.”

During last year’s game in Chapel Hill, ECU was a victim to numerous missed opportunities and lost decisively to the Tar Heels 27-6. Excluding specialists, UNC returns 13 starters from last season’s 8-4 team, but is still adjusting to the losses of three offensive linemen and its feature tailback, Giovani Bernard, to the NFL.

As for the Pirates, they return 18 starters who are looking to end their four-game losing skid against Tar Heels. All-time, ECU has won just two of its 15 meetings with UNC (2-12-1) and hasn’t won in Chapel Hill since 1975.

If that wasn’t enough to get the Pirates off the mat, they are still sitting on their heart-breaking 15-10 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 14. Even though the bye week has come and gone, the loss has left a sour taste in the players’ mouths and remains reserved in the back of the their minds.

“The last game we played that was a tough locker room to address and I’ve addressed a lot of locker rooms,” said McNeill. “I want to win for them first and then in turn, win for our program.”

Taking out a page from Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler’s playbook, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner made some comments that may add some fuel to the fire and become bulletin-board material.

“I think they have a chip on their shoulder because we are Carolina and they are East Carolina,” said Renner when asked about ECU on Monday.
Despite the comments, McNeill doesn’t see a win against the Tar Heels as a program-changer and says they might have just as much (if not more) riding on this game than the Pirates.

“I think it’s great for the state when you can play in-state games,” said McNeill. “People call it our ‘Super Bowl,’ but I think it’s good for them too.”

This writer can be contacted at sports@theeastcarolinian.com.

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