Tar Heels search for bowl eligibility

Old Dominion comes to town Saturday, bringing with it a talented quarterback that leads a high-powered spread offense.

It’s a situation eerily similar to North Carolina’s week leading up to the game against East Carolina on Sept. 28.

The Tar Heels were headed to face Virginia Tech the week after the Pirates brought their spread offense to Kenan Stadium. UNC suffered a meltdown against the Pirates and gave up a whopping 55 points in a 24-point loss.

DTH Gameday Breakdown: When Old Dominion has the ball

DTH Gameday Breakdown: When North Carolina has the ball

UNC has a big ACC game next week against rival Duke. It would be easy to overlook the Monarchs this Saturday as an easy win — a win the Tar Heels need to become bowl-eligible.

And though coach Larry Fedora has only mentioned the early-season letdown against the Pirates once this week, it’s apparent that some of the players are making the comparisons themselves.

Senior defensive back Jabari Price said after practice Wednesday that he specifically doesn’t want to repeat that performance.

“We don’t want to mimic ECU, another ECU performance in our stadium with another spread offense,” Price said.

A key in ECU’s 55-point explosion against the Tar Heels was because the Pirates got a big performance from their quarterback, junior Shane Carden, who threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns, adding three more touchdowns on the ground.

Carden’s statistics look a lot like those of ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Both complete more than 70 percent of their passes, and both have thrown for at least 29 touchdowns this season. Heinicke’s gaudy numbers are no surprise — he owns the Division I record for passing yards in a single game with 730 last season.

Heinicke’s talent is not lost on Fedora, who was quick to praise the quarterback’s skill.

“I tell you what, he is a very talented young man,” Fedora said. “He can extend plays, he’s got a great arm, he knows where to go with the ball.”

Price knows that the secondary will have to play well against ODU to keep Heinicke from having career day.

“We know he’s mobile, and we know he’s a very good player, probably the best player on their team,” Price said. “So we’re trying to contain him you know, be sound on defense with our assignments.”

UNC’s pass rush has to play better as well. It was essentially nonexistent against ECU, failing to register a sack in the game, and senior defensive end Kareem Martin knows they can’t have that same performance against the Monarchs.

“I think we just have to get on them early,” Martin said. “With a team like this that can throw the ball so well they’re always in the game. We want to just try and take their confidence early.”

The numbers say that ODU is a lot like ECU. UNC will take the field Saturday with every intention to prove otherwise.

sports@dailytarheel.com

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