Three games into the season, North Carolina is still searching for its identity under first-year coach Larry Fedora.
Is it the team that showed up in the first half against Louisville and fell behind 36-7? Or is it the second-half team, that didn’t quit, and has outscored its opponents 61-10?
“We’re still trying to find out who we are as a football team,” Fedora said. “The focus this week has been on our energy level with everything we do … it’s really about us. We’re really looking at ourselves this week.”
They need to get some answers quickly with East Carolina coming to town. The Tar Heels have lost back-to-back games, including one to an in-state opponent, Wake Forest. The Pirates are one of five in-state opponents on Carolina’s schedule this year, and it’s important for Fedora to make a statement within the border in his first season for recruiting purposes.
As head coach at Southern Miss, Fedora was 2-2 against the Pirates with wins in 2011 (48-28) and 2008 (21-3). Fedora faced ECU coach Ruffin McNeill twice during that time with Fedora winning in 2011 and McNeill pulling out a 44-43 victory in 2010.
“This is Ruffin’s third year there and I think the kids finally understand exactly what he is doing for them,” Fedora said. “We [as coaches] have some mileage because we’ve played them for the last couple of years and you see a big improvement each year with Ruffin’s teams. I think he’s finally got the defense he wants, they understand what he is trying to do and they understand the scheme. He’s got them playing hard. They’re going to come into our stadium and play hard no matter what.”
UNC hasn’t lost in this series since 2007, and it should win this year, based on superior talent, but the Tar Heels have already surprised Fedora once.
Fedora said there were no hints at practice in the week leading up to the Louisville game that the Tar Heels might come out looking as uninspired as they did against the Cardinals.
“It really was a shock to me,” he said. “It really was. I thought our guys were prepared. I thought they were ready to go. Ultimately, that’s my responsibility. I was the one who failed them.”