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View from the 'ville
Thursday, September 6, 2007

By Al Myatt

Heels likely to open up against Bucs

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Unlike Michigan, North Carolina avoided the potential embarrassment of opening the season at home with a loss to a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) power.

The Tar Heels took care of business in a 37-14 win over James Madison.

The Dukes held a 15-14 edge in first downs and led 150-100 in rushing yardage as the Heels showed as little as possible of their offensive package under new coach Butch Davis coming into this Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff at East Carolina.

"Last week we had an advantage over JMU because there really wasn't any tape on us they could use," said Tar Heels receiver Brooks Foster. "ECU will obviously have last week's tape and I think we will have to be more prepared to play."

This is the earliest date the two regional programs have played in the series which UNC-CH leads, 8-1-1. This is only the second time the teams have played in Greenville, where the Heels captured a matchup of winless clubs, 28-17, in the last meeting on Oct. 11, 2003.

While the Heels were tuning up with JMU, the Pirates launched their season with a respectable showing in a 17-7 loss at No. 9 Virginia Tech in which ECU was without projected starting quarterback Rob Kass.

The Pirates limited the Hokies to a mere 33 yards rushing on 31 attempts but Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon compensated with 245 yards passing as he completed 22 of 33 with one touchdown and one interception.

A moral victory wasn't what third-year Pirates coach Skip Holtz was looking for on his trip to Blacksburg. But he saw some positives on his venture into the Blue Ridge foothills.

"I was disappointed that we didn't come away with the win, but very encouraged at the same time, especially when you look at the number of players we played and the youth and inexperience," Holtz said. "What was frustrating about the game was that we made some youthful mistakes that got us beat.

"We tried to force the ball into coverage and they ran it back for a touchdown. We had three uncontested deep balls that they completed. Virginia Tech is a great program. It was a great atmosphere and it was a great opportunity for us to go up there and compete. There were a lot of things I was encouraged about but a lot of room for growth as well."

The Pirates faced Virginia Tech without a quarterback who had ever thrown a pass in a college varsity game but found a possible leader as junior Patrick Pinkney completed 14 of 25 for 115 yards without an interception in relief of Brett Clay, who started in Kass' absence and managed to connect on just 2 of 6 passes for 4 yards. Clay threw the interception that put the Hokies ahead to stay late in the first half.

Holtz named Pinkney ECU's No. 1 quarterback at the outset of the North Carolina game week.

"I was real pleased with Patrick Pinkney in terms of the poise he showed and I thought he did a real nice job of managing the game," said the Pirates coach. "I always look into a quarterback's eyes to see if I'm looking to the back of his head or if he is into it. He was definitely into it."

Kass returned to practice on Sunday from a one-game suspension for DUI but Holtz said the sophomore who completed 10 of 19 passes for 138 yards in last year's Bowl has dropped to the bottom of the depth chart.

"He is available to play but he will work his way up from the bottom," Holtz said of Kass. "Right now this is Patrick Pinkney's job and he deserves it. I was impressed with the way he played and protected the ball. He gave a spark of enthusiasm to our offense and I think that is what our young football team needs right now. When (Kass) made the decision he did, he gave up the spot and (Pinkney) did a nice job of stepping up and taking it."

Pinkney took his first college varsity snap on ECU's fourth possession after the Pirates had failed to get a first down on their first three series with Clay at the controls. ECU responded by driving 52 yards for a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead with 14:23 left in the half. Converted freshman receiver Dwayne Harris also saw time at quarterback on the scoring series.

"I was just trying to be coachable, take it one play at a time and not let my teammates down," Pinkney said. "When your name is called, you've got to be ready to play. You've got to execute the offense. You can't turn the ball over. You've got to do your job."

Pinkney should be even better prepared this week than when he faced a Hokies unit that returned eight starters from Division I-A's best defense in 2006.

Davis is 0-2 as a head coach at Miami against ECU. The Pirates stunned the Hurricanes 31-6 at the Orange Bowl in 1996 and rallied for a 27-23 win in Raleigh in 1999 after that game was moved from Greenville following flooding from Hurricane Floyd.

"Coach Davis is an excellent football coach," Holtz said. "He's brought in an awfully lot of excitement and enthusiasm into a program. Anytime there's change, there's excitement and enthusiasm but I think with someone like Coach Davis comes along with his history, with his past, with his tradition, he's going to bring in another level of excitement.

"I think these players have bought in. He's doing a great job with his football team. They're extremely talented. What he's doing, he's bringing them together and he has them playing together as a team. James Madison is an excellent program and they beat 'em rather soundly there at home in the opening ball game.

"They have a very good defensive football team. They run to the ball extremely well. They're big and they're physical. Like I said, I know they have talent because they're in the top ten in recruiting classes every year. They have an awfully lot of talent and you're starting to see that right now."

Like ECU, the Tar Heels had a newcomer at quarterback in their first game. T.J. Yates only played one season on the prep level at Pope High in Marietta, GA, but accumulated some big numbers as he completed 160 of 289 passes for 2,305 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also rushed for 292 yards and seven scores. He redshirted in Chapel Hill last year but was 10 for 15 in the spring game for 163 yards and three touchdowns.

Yates got a preview of the defense he will face this week while waiting to make his college debut.

"We watched a little of their game in the hotel on Saturday," Yates said. "They have a really good defense and they played Virginia Tech really hard."

The Heels dodged a potential pothole in week one but will leave the supportive environment of Kenan Stadium to take on the Pirates. Davis has been to Greenville as a Miami assistant in the 1980's.

"Their fans do a great job of getting behind their football team," Davis said of the environment at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, which will be sold out on Saturday. "That obviously will add an additional challenge to a young team — being able to handle the crowd noise and going on the road."

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09/06/2007 02:29:11 AM


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