Brutal doesn't even begin to describe it.
Heading into this game, there was a feeling UNC had its work cut out for it. The expectation in that regard pointed to something a little more competitive. There was a little hope that perhaps the first two games for UNC had been a matter of working the kinks out and a Tar Heel team that has plenty of talent would show up. A loss wouldn't be ideal but this is also a very good ECU team playing at home in front of a raucous crowd. The worst case scenario for this game should have been a competitive Tar Heel team coming up short against a very good and experienced Pirate squad.
What happened was miles from any of that as ECU broke open the game late in the first half on the way to a 70-41 win. ECU's 70 points eclipsed the 69 posted by Louisville against the Heels in 2005 and 789 yards of total offense blew past the 669 yards Utah rolled up in 2004. I am not sure this is the John Bunting Era, Part II but it certainly feels like it right now.
For most of the first half, UNC was in the game, at least according to the scoreboard. With 10:01 left in the first half, UNC trailed 21-20 however the way the Tar Heels had managed those points and handled ECU's offense made that score deceptive. ECU had basically done anything it wanted on offense with the exception of UNC getting a pair of stops and an interception. The Tar Heels were somewhat effective on offense but settled for field goals after driving twice inside the ECU five. When the Heels did manage to find the end zone it was via a trick play and a fake field goal. Ryan Switzer hit T.J. Thorpe on a lateral and pass play to garner the Heels' first touchdown. With UNC trailing 14-13, the Tar Heels set up for a 46-yard field goal attempt which, for some reason, ECU actually thought was happening. Tommy Hibbard took the snap and tossed a pass to a wide open Eric Albright to stake the Heels to a 20-14 lead.
Meanwhile, ECU was doing anything it wanted on offense and while the Heels did force some stops, the UNC offense stalled. It was clear that ECU was the better team and the Tar Heels had relied too much on non-conventional plays to even stay in the game. That, in itself, was a telling. "Pulling out all the stops" is something overmatched teams do in an effort to steal points to even the playing field a bit. The fact UNC had to do it versus ECU is a testament to how good the Pirates are and the present state of affairs in Chapel Hill.
Still, with the first half winding down, UNC was in the game trailing 21-20 and ECU facing 3rd and 28 at the UNC 44-yard line. 3rd and 28 should have been manageable even as bad as UNC can defensively be at times right? Not so much and I even said so at the time.
I have zero confidence RT @TurnerWalston: OK need a big stop on this 3rd and 28.
— Brian Barbour (@tarheelblog) September 20, 2014
What happened next let you know the demons were fully in charge of this one. ECU, perfectly willing to punt, handed the ball off to Breon Allen in one of those ridiculous running plays that have zero chance of getting the first down. Well, unless it comes against the Tar Heel defense then it goes 44-yards for a touchdown. ECU basically tried to hand the ball back to UNC and the Tar Heels instead rolled out the red carpet to the end zone.
At this stage, the scoreboard said the game wasn't over but anyone watching the game had an inkling. ECU went on to force a three and out then score another touchdown to post a 35-20 halftime lead and 443 yards of total offense in just one half. 443 yards would be outstanding output for a whole game and ECU had done that in just 30 minutes of game time.
In the second half things got worse for the Tar Heels and never got anywhere near better's zip code. UNC received the kickoff and faced a third and 2 with Marquise WIlliams running a QB sneak that seemingly secured the first down except it didn't count. Larry Fedora called a timeout prior to the play negating the first down plunge by Williams. On the play out of the timeout Williams promptly threw a pick-six and the rout was on. UNC was hamstrung on offense with injuries to key players starting to mount while there was no consistent answer for the Pirates on the defensive side of the ball.
And yet, UNC had a faint gleam of hope after cutting the lead to 42-27 then getting a stop on ECU's next offensive possession. That flame was quickly extinguished when Heels' subsequent drive stalled. ECU got the ball back then scored again and again and again. It was 63-27 before the Heels found the end zone again. The Pirates, apparently seeking vengeance on behalf of Old Dominion, put together another scoring drive to top the 70 point mark before UNC's meaningless touchdown to set the final margin.
Clearly this sort of loss, especially at the hands of an in-state rival from a non-Power Five conference, is going to raise many questions. Some of those will be outlandish and others quite legitimate. ECU deserves all the credit in the world. As Roy Williams likes to note, losses are never totally about what your team does. The caliber and play of the opposing team matters and ECU was the better team on the field. The questions get raised regarding the clear difference in the score, the personnel and how the two teams executed on both sides of the ball. ECU has it rolling possibly on the way to a second straight ten win season while UNC faces another season bumpy road with no easy solutions at hand.
Now, let us never speak of this game again.