On the long list of memorable East Carolina wins, this one ranks at or near the top, not only because of the opponent but because of the complete domination.
Will they remember this game for years at North Carolina as well, for all the wrong reasons? The circumstances raised serious questions about the direction of the North Carolina program, none of them easy to answer.
A year after the Pirates toyed with the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, they managed to further embarrass North Carolina in front of a record crowd, just one of so many records broken in Saturday’s 70-41 thrashing.
East Carolina is the team Larry Fedora promised when he was hired at North Carolina.
Smart. Fast. Physical. That was the team in black.
Get up to go get a drink and miss a touchdown? The Pirates had four scoring drives that lasted less than a minute, five scoring plays of 25 yards or longer.
The Pirates are more talented, deeper and better coached than North Carolina. Period. That’s a tough combination to beat, and the Pirates have proven it in consecutive years both home and away. Last year’s 55-31 win at North Carolina was decisive. This was exponentially more impressive.
“We were outcoached, outplayed, everything,” Fedora said.
“We can play better,” East Carolina receiver Justin Hardy said. “That wasn’t even our best game.”
The Pirates will surely enter the top 25 now, with a 2-0 record in the ACC’s Coastal Division. They’re rolling. Even the loss of their second-best receiver to suspension announced just before kickoff didn’t shake them for a second: Cam Worthy’s replacement, freshman Trevon Brown, caught two touchdowns in the first half.
Substantial credit is due Ruffin McNeill, who in his fifth season at his alma mater has delivered the high-octane offense he promised and corrected the defensive woes that plagued his first few teams. It took a change of defensive coordinators after the 2012 season, but the Pirates are reaping the rewards now. They’re 13-4 since.
North Carolina may face a similar decision, because with two weeks to prepare for East Carolina’s offense, the North Carolina defense looked like it spent both of them at the beach. East Carolina scored touchdowns on 3rd-and-28 (44 yards), 3rd-and-10 (19 yards) and 3rd-and-9 (26 yards).
The Pirates’ 789 yards of offense smashed the North Carolina record for yards allowed, set in 2004. The 70 points set a new Tar Heels record for defensive futility as well. And East Carolina broke its own school record for total offense dating back to 1975.
When you’re breaking records for defensive ineptitude set during the John Bunting era, it doesn’t get any worse than that. Whatever defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is trying to do, it isn’t working.
So it’s back to the drawing board for North Carolina, with difficult games at Clemson, against Virginia Tech and at Notre Dame coming next. In the middle of Fedora’s third season, it’s difficult to see his vision for this team in practice.
“It makes you reevaluate everything,” Fedora said. “It makes you reevaluate who you are, who I am, who we are as a football team. We’ll find out a lot about who we are. We really will.”
If the Tar Heels really want figure out who they’re supposed to be, they only needed to look across the field Saturday.