A week after the ECU Pirates knocked off the Virginia Tech Hokies, Shane Carden reintroduced himself to the college football world with a sensational performance on Saturday as East Carolina gave the visiting North Carolina Tar Heels a record-setting beating, 70-41. It's the first time in school history the Tar Heels had allowed 70 points (68 vs. Georgia Tech in 2012; 69 at Louisville 2005).
Carden's Pirates had no shortage of superlative statistics:
- 10 touchdowns
- 40 first downs
- 789 yards of total offense
- 12-16 third down conversion
- 449 yards passing (9.0 yards per pass)
- 343 yards rushing (7.5 yards per rush)
It was a wrecking of epic proportions, and every chance UNC had and didn't take advantage of only dug the Tar Heels' hole even deeper.
In a turn of events that was emblematic of UNC's struggles, the Tar Heels were facing a third and short on their first series after halftime. UNC QB Marquise Williams rushed for a first down on the play, but it was blown dead by a Fedora timeout from the sidelines. On the ensuing play, Williams threw a pick-six to linebacker Zeek Bigger. The score was 42-20, and UNC never got within a single score for the rest of the game.
But to just highlight a rather large mistake would do a disservice to the work that Carden and ECU put in on offense. The Pirates were unstoppable for the entire game, scoring 70 points and punting only twice on the day. They were by far the best unit to hit the field on Saturday afternoon, and the win is richly deserved.
Three things we learned
1. Shane Carden is a dark-horse Heisman contender. Now, look. Nobody's suggesting Carden's going to win the Heisman. In Week 4, there's about 50 or 60 guys who, if everything goes right from then on, might have a shot at a trip to New York in December. That number may sound too big to be notable, but 60 players out of 128 FBS teams is already a pretty exclusive club, and Carder's firmly in it after an absurd performance that pushed his Pirates to 3-1. ECU's a serious contender for the American Athletic Conference title, and while that won't get ECU into the Playoff with a loss already on its ledger, it is enough to potentially get award voters' attention at the end of the year.
2. UNC's defense is a real problem. Obviously, giving up the most points in school history is not advisable, but the UNC defensive issues were apparent from Week 1, when the Heels gave up 29 points to Liberty before ceding 27 points to San Diego State in Week 2. Now, those games were both wins, so it's easy to set aside the defensive issues when there's still a zero in the loss column. Now that ECU absolutely boat-raced UNC, though, the issues are too big to ignore.
This is the expected result of academic sanctions, of course; coaches may speak of opportunities and still having 11 men on the field and blah blah blah, but at the end of the day the Tar Heels are giving a lot of snaps to guys they wish were... not getting a lot of snaps.
3. Ruffin McNeill should probably be getting some calls. We're not here to tell McNeill where to work, and we're not here to tell you he hasn't gotten any "better" (subjective, to be sure) offers than ECU. But he should be getting some offers. The Pirates are bad, bad men, and this might be the best squad McNeill has fielded in Greenville. McNeill is already 55, so he's not a guy a fledgling Power 5 conference can lean on for the next 20 years, but the guy gets results, and quickly: his record as a head coach is now 32-23 (22-10), and he did not inherit a great squad.
Put it this way: someone with a lot of money is going to hire a substantially worse coach than McNeill this year. Let's hope that school has the good sense to at least call McNeill's people first.