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Game Center: East Carolina 55, North Carolina 31

Sept. 28, 2013 • Kenan Stadium • Attendance: 60,000 • The Season

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

By Denny O'Brien

Offense humbles Heels

By Denny O'Brien
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CHAPEL HILL – The last two weeks probably weren’t the easiest for Lincoln Riley.

After a frustrating 15-10 loss to Virginia Tech two weeks ago, the East Carolina offensive coordinator was the target of scrutiny from the media and fans alike. Seems like everybody took their shots at the Pirates’ OC.

His play calling was questioned. His offensive philosophy was examined. Many were read to abandon his pass-heavy spread.

After the Pirates’ dominating 55-31 victory over North Carolina in Kenan Stadium, my hunch is those opinions have changed. Riley could run for mayor of Greenville and win as handily as the Pirates did against the over-matched Tar Heels.

From the Pirates' opening possession, Riley's up-tempo attack toyed with a North Carolina defense that was thoroughly humiliated in front of its home crowd. You have to believe it was a vindicating afternoon for ECU's young offensive boss.

And that's an understatement when you look at the final offensive tally. In addition to the Pirates' 55 points, the offense collected 227 yards rushing, 376 more passing, and held a more than 12-minute advantage in time of possession.

Those numbers would have been even more inflated had ECU not taken a merciful knee on its final series.

“Obviously, it worked,” Pirates quarterback Shane Carden said about Riley's offensive plan. “When we came out, we knew we wanted to be much more balanced. We had gotten into a little too much run here, a little too much pass there.

“I thought we did a really good job running the ball. The offensive line played outstanding. They played physical in the running game and passing game. I had plenty of time back there to throw.”

At times it seemed like centuries. Carden again demonstrated that when given the time to run through his progressions, he can be a near-flawless tactician. His protection allowed him to distribute 32 completions to 12 different receivers for 376 yards and three scores.

But as good as the Pirates’ offensive line was in protecting its captain, it was even better at opening holes for running back Vintavious Cooper. All he did was carry it 35 times for 186 yards, while snagging eight passes for 70 more.

Most of that production can be credited to the excessive bullying North Carolina's defensive front experienced. The Pirates’ front pushed the Tar Heels around, carved gaping holes, and essentially dictated the flow of the game.

Riley was able to expand the playbook as a result.

“We want to be in that 90 range, plays wise,” Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “I thought Lincoln did a great job of blending his calls. He had a great game plan coming in. We were able to throw the football, but also run the football.”

To summarize, ECU did essentially anything it wanted.

Screens? Those generally went for 12, 13 yards.

Runs off tackle? Cooper weaved around and pummeled through the Tar Heel defense.

Play-action? Carden repeatedly sucked the wind out of the North Carolina crowd.

The deep ball? Davon Grayson and Lance Ray asserted themselves as capable vertical threats.

Heck, about the only thing that kept the Pirates from scoring was the Kenan Stadium clock. It was the only salve for a thoroughly dismantled Carolina defense.

Give Riley credit for much of that, if not all of it. Outside of lining ECU up in wishbone formation, there wasn't much that he didn't try in this Pirate offensive party.

Saturday's win over North Carolina is no doubt the feather in Riley's relatively young coaching cap. Regardless of what happens during the remainder of his promising career, he'll always be remembered by ECU fans for what his offense did on the last Saturday in September in 2013.

That was a complete embarrassment of hated North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He earned a lot of mileage with that.

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09/29/2013 07:23:32 AM

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