Pirates look to recapture magic of 2007|ECU to take on No. 24 Tar Heels today at noon

Published 6:58 pm Saturday, September 19, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The Pirates will be making their first trip back to Chapel Hill since they lost 24-21 in front of 58,00 people at Kenan Stadium in 2001
The last time these two teams met was Sept. 8, 2007 in Greenville, when Ben Hartman hit a redemption-filled, program-boosting, 39-yard last-second field goal to lift ECU to a 34-31 victory.
As a junior, quarterback Patrick Pinkney lit up the Tar Heels’ defense for a career-high 406 yards, and today nobody would like to emulate that 2007 performance more than Pinkney.
Through two games in 2009 Pinkney has just barely eclipsed the 300-yard mark, and right or wrong, has been come the focal point for blame for an ECU offense that has yet to produce a single point after halftime this season.
Running back Jonathan Williams will be starting in place of the injured Dominique Lindsay, and Norman Whitley will more than likely get his first carry of the season today for ECU (1-1).
The duo both had prolific 2008 seasons, and could have a nice impact on today’s game.
The Pirates’ rushers will have their hands full as they will battle one of the better defenses in the country when they take on the No. 24 Tar Heels (2-0).
UNC runs a staunch 4-3 defense, but unlike the Pirates unit, it relies more on man coverage. MLB Quan Sturdivant is a 6-3, 235-pound junior who led the nation in unassisted tackles with 87. Fellow linebacker Bruce Carter is a Havelock native who will no doubt be a factor. In front of him is a sturdy D-line that returns all its starters from last year and boasts a superior left side that is powered by DE E.J. Wilson and DT Marvin Austin.
The UNC secondary is equally strong despite losing Roanoke alum Trimane Goddard, who led the FBS with seven picks. All-ACC corner Kendric Burney and safety Deunta Williams head up a ball-hawking unit that will look to compound Pinkney’s struggles.
The Tar Heels are not so solid on the other side of the ball where injuries and inexperience on the offensive line could prove to be costly. Senior C Lowell Dyer and freshman LG Jon Cooper are not expected to play due to injuries, and will be replaced by sophomore Cam Holland and junior Greg Elleby.
Butch Davis’ UNC squad runs a pro style offense which will feature some I-formations and two receiver sets. The offense is still trying to recover from losing wideouts Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster, all of which are in the NFL right now. TE Zach Pianalto is the team’s leading receiver, but will not play due to an injured foot. Wideouts Greg Little and Erik Highsmith are young, but show a lot of potential.
The Tar Heels’ O-line, versus C.J. Wilson and the ECU D-Line will be a crucial matchup today. The Pirates must get to UNC star quarterback T.J. Yates and make is day a nightmare if they want to pull off an upset.
ECU’s must play a time of possession game if it wants to win. Controlling the clock with the run will be critical, and it will also open up the play-action. If the Pirates’ can keep their defense off of the field and make it a low scoring affair for four quarter anything can happen.
ECU: The Pirates’ offense really needs to cure its second half ills, and if it can do that versus a tough UNC defense, win or lose it will go a long way towards the rest of the season. By now everybody knows quarterback Patrick Pinkney (28-66, 306, 2 Tds, 3 INTs) has struggled throughout the first two games, but the ECU running game needs to step up as well. The Pirates rushed for only 62 yards versus West Virginia. Jonathan Williams will start today in place of injured Dominique Lindsay, while Norman Whitley will take Williams’ place on the depth chart. Maybe some new blood in the backfield can help take the pressure off of Pinkney and the passing game.
UNC: Three-year starter T.J. Yates will guide a UNC offense that looked solid in its season-opening 40-6 win over Citadel, but struggled during its 12-10 win over Uconn last Saturday. Yates (32-52, 347, 3 Tds, 3 INTs) is still adjusting to a whole new receiving corps. Junior WR Gregg Little is the leader of a young, but extremely tall and athletic group. Little is 6-3, 215 pounds, and considered walking on to the UNC basketball team, while freshmen wideouts Josh Adams is 6-4, 200 pounds and Erik Highsmith is 6-3, 175. Tight End Zach Pianalto leads UNC in receiving yards (112), but is doubtful for today’s game after hurting his foot during a TD celebration against UConn
The Tar Heels’ rushing attack will be led by juniors Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston. Both backs are sturdy, but may have trouble trying to gain yards behind an inexperienced UNC line that had to replace three starters from a year ago and now has to deal with injuries to freshman LG Jon Cooper (ankle) and senior C Lowell Dyer. Junior Greg Elleby will likely start for Cooper, while sophomore Cam Holland is expected to start at center.
ECU: The ECU defense got torched for big plays last week and let up 509 yard of total offense to West Virginia. There is no way that can happen again if the Pirates want to beat their in-state rival.
The scrambling of WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown that was so effective last week, shouldn’t be a problem this week as the defense will take aim at T.J. Yates, who is more of a pocket passer. The East Carolina D-line will face a relatively new O-line of the Tar Heels, and will really need to exploit the young group in order for the defense to have a good day. Safety Levin Neal (shoulder) is expected to play today, as well as Emmanuel Davis (ankle).
UNC: Defense is the strength of this Tar Heel team as it returned nine starters from a year ago. Junior MLB Quan Sturdivant is a force, and last season led the nation with 87 unassisted tackles. All of UNC’s starting D-linemen from a year ago are back for another season. DE E.J. Wilson and DT Marvin Austin can make life very tough for Patrick Pinkney today.
Led by corner Kendric Burney, the Heels’ secondary excels at man coverage and picking passes. Last season this team was eight in the nation with 20 INTs.
Special teams:
ECU: The Pirates kicking game is still up in the air, as no declarative starter has been named at placekicker. Skip Holtz said he holds competition throughout the week, and who ever wins will be the game’s kicker. Ben Hartman has kicked all of ECU’s five field goals this week and is 4-5 on the season with his one miss coming from 26 yards out.
UNC: Jay Wooten, the UNC kicker last season, transferred to South Carolina during the offseason. Sophomore Casey Barth has nabbed the starting spot and is 3-4 on the season.