Three weeks ago, this game had the trappings of a classic: experienced defenses, above-average offensive units and productive special teams all in an emotional rivalry clash.
Now that game day has arrived, though, much of that promise has faded. ECU's defense disappeared after one half of the Pirates' opener, and its offense hasn't come close to picking up the slack.
Meanwhile, injuries have compounded UNC's offensive inexperience to the extent that even the Pirates' porous defense could present something of a challenge.
What's left is the rivalry ingredient, but that should be enough to save the day. Although one-sided -- UNC holds an 8-2-1 lead in the series -- the Tar Heels and Pirates generally have produced memorable games marked by several signature individual performances.
While it's entirely possible that breakdowns in execution rather than a procession of stunning plays will dictate the final score today, there's very little chance either side will come out psychologically flat.
If the first two games are any indication of what to expect, the Pirates are the logical pick to make more mistakes. UNC, 23-14.
Swinging for the fences
North Carolina's longest pass play of the young season is 26 yards, and that was to tight end Zack Pianalto, who's out now with an injured right foot. After watching game video of East Carolina's 35-20 loss to West Virginia, you can bet UNC's coaches will take a few chances down the field with their receivers. West Virginia burned ECU's secondary for 334 yards, including deep connections of 58, 55 and 46 yards.
Turning up the pressure
As a general rule, ECU defensive coordinator Greg Hudson isn't blitz-happy. But with inexperienced center Cam Holland making his second start for the Tar Heels on their injury-depleted line, Hudson might be inclined to throw the sink at UNC quarterback T.J. Yates.
Player to watch
ECU, Sr., QB, 6-0, 205
For a freshman, a 42.4 completion percentage would be poor, but for a sixth-year senior? Needless to say, the Pirates expected more, and they need more from Pinkney, who has completed only 28 of 66 passes in the first two games. Pinkney, who completed 61.4 percent of his passes last season, has to play better to give ECU any chance of an upset.
By the numbers
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opp. avg. rush yds.
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opp. avg. pass yds.