Let's get one thing out of the way – the offensive line is still undermanned, outmatched and beaten up, and that doesn't look to change any time soon. Faced with that limitation against a tough East Carolina front four, John Stoop came through designing an offensive that relied on the quick thinking and talents of T.J. Yates, Shaun Draughn, and Erik Highsmith to put together 426 yards of offense en route to a comfortable victory.
First, Draughns. Running behind an inexperienced line, he had to earn his yards the hard way, out running defenders to the sides and spinning past and breaking through tackles, all of which he did with aplomb. He had 83 yards on 19 carriers and one thirty-four yard pass that sailed rather well if slightly high to Greg Little. It was all in al his best perfromance I think since last year's Georgia Tech game. Yates rarely had more than three seconds to throw the ball, and the plays were designed around that, mostly going out to the wings with occasional short passes over the middle. Only rarely did the Heels try to go deep, with great success as Yates found Jheranie Boyd for a 59-yard touchdown. But mostly it was quick, short passes to march down the field, as Yates went 19 for 25 for 247 yards, 113 of them to Erik Highsmith, who had the first start of a career that will certainly have many more. This is the brightest the offense has looked all season, and if they can keep this level up consistently, they can hang with any team in the ACC.
Of course, none of this would mean anything without the defense, who continued to excel, completely stifling ECU's running game at 55 yards, and hounding the passing offense all game. The Pirates could rarely put together any momentum, as the defense continued to earn every superlative tossed their way. The offense gets more mention because their success is a greater surprise, but it's the defense that's leading this team, winning these games, and buying their teammates on the other side of the ball the breathing room to find their rhythm. This is the best play I've seen from the Tar Heels in quite some time, and with a trip to Georgia Tech ahead of them next week, it's a good time for them to come into their own.