One of these days, UNC's defense is going to show up for the first half of the game.
Today was not that day however, and if you want to start finding fault with the Tar Heels' 21-point victory over East Carolina, it's as good a place as any to start. After forcing three-and-outs on the the opening two ECU possessions, UNC would give up long scoring drives, only coming together at the end to hold the Pirates to field goals. ECU totaled 70 ad 57 yards on the ground in their last two games; today the managed 109. The Heels gave up thirteen first downs, missed too many tackles, and let their opponent open up too many holes. For a team with as sputtering an offense as the Pirates, they were in this game far too long.
Luckily, the offense, and Giovani Bernard especially, were there to ensure Carolina would never trail. In his first game back from injury, Bernard was limited to only 50 yards on 18 carries, but he excelled in catching passes in the backfield and over the middle, netting 52 yards on six catches and one of his two touchdowns. And Bryn Renner had much more than just his tailback to look to when throwing the ball; the sophomore quarterbac had his second-straight 300-yard passing game, setting a new UC record for two-game passing yardage. He would finish with 323 yards and two passing touchdowns.
Despite this, it was still a 10-6 game at the half, and Larry Fedora could not have been happy with his team's performance to that point. They came out the locker room for the second half fired up — after a three-and-out, Renner found receiver Sean Tapley for a 62-yard touchdown strike on the first play of the second possession. The defense, finally ready to play, followed it up with a fumble recovery on the ECU 15. A second quick score, and the game was out of reach for the Pirates. And all the defense would regress a bit in the fourth, and Carolina's offense would slow for the rest of the game, the end result was a solid win.
But can we learn much from this game? Not really, in the grand scheme of things. Ruffin McNeill has a ways to go before East Carolina can again be a giant-killer, and we already knew the Tar Heel defense struggles with consistency. We might have cause to be worried about Erik Highsmith. Although he lead all receivers with 66 yards on 8 catches, he dropped two sure touchdown passes that would have made him the MVP of the game and the whole affair a blowout. Jheranie Boyd was also mysteriously absent from the stat line. Renner has a lot of weapons at his disposal, but you'd still like to see someone take up the mantle of the go-to guy.
That's a concern for practice, this week and next, as the upcoming Idaho Vandals aren't expected to be much trouble. The bigger danger is that UNC is caught looking ahead to Virginia Tech. Until then, Carolina has time to work out a few more of the kinks and get Gio Bernard a little bit healthier. Lock both of those down, and UNC could challenge for an ACC Championship that they're ineligible to win.