This was not the start North Carolina coach Larry Fedora and his team had in mind prior to the season.
His team was, for the most part, healthy. And though 13 players were suspended — some for as much as four games -- they believed they had the pieces to pull off at least the first two games.
But after a 41-19 upset loss to East Carolina (1-1) on Saturday, UNC is now 0-2 to start the season for the second year in a row. Saturday’s defeat wasn’t just a loss, it was a beat down. The Pirates (1-1) have a recent history of beating the Tar Heels. ECU beat UNC 55-31 in 2013 in Chapel Hill. ECU also beat UNC 70-41 in 2014 in Greenville, a game in which Fedora said earlier in the week that he did not recall.
It seemed Saturday that the few injuries that UNC does have, coupled with the nine players who were serving suspensions, caught up to them.
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The Pirates dominated the Tar Heels in the second half of this game, outscoring them 20-0.
UNC ended the game punting or turning the ball over on downs on its last six possessions. It was also the second consecutive game in which the offense was ineffective for a whole half.
Much of what happened last season, looks almost identical to what is happening this season. A lot of people are out, UNC is committing too many penalties, its offense can’t get going, and it is giving up too many explosive plays.
When asked where the program was right now, Fedora said, “we’re 0-2 right now. It’s early in the season. Our kids will keep fighting. Our coaches will keep coaching and we’ll get things in the right direction.”
But some fans of the program have already lost faith in the current team and its coach. On Twitter, the hashtag #FireFedora was started, as fans called for the firing of UNC’s head coach.
After finishing 11-3 and making it to the ACC Championship in 2015, UNC’s football team has regressed. It finished 3-9 in 2017. And the 2019 recruiting class has not gotten off to a good start.
The suspension of 13 players this season, Fedora’s controversial comments on CTE and its relation to football, and the 0-2 start have not helped.
Fedora said he understands that there will be criticism headed his way. He said he’ll handle it the same way he does anything else.
“If you’ve got a sound philosophy and you’re working hard and your guys are working hard, good things will happen,” he said. “That’s the way you’ve got to look at it.”
UNC will play Central Florida next week at home. It will be the Tar Heels’ first home game of the season. The Knights (2-0), who finished last year with a perfect 13-0 record, beat UConn 56-17 in Week One, and S.C. State 38-0 on Saturday.
Next Saturday, UNC will return two players — defensive backs Tre Shaw and Greg Ross — who were suspended for two games, but eight players will continue to sit.
After the Saturday’s loss, each of UNC’s players interviewed said they were ready to move on to the next game.
“We’re staying positive,” UNC wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who had four catches for 84 yards, said. “It’s a long season and we’ve got to go back to the drawing board.”
UNC junior quarterback Nathan Elliott, who passed for 219 yards, said the same.
“I’m pretty frustrated. I don’t think anyone wants to start out 0-2,” Elliott said. “But there’s no quit in this locker room. There’s no quit on this team. Anywhere on this team.”