1. Let's get the good news out of the way first: Saturday's loss wasn't a conference game. That's about it for the good news.
Penalties continue to be an area of concern for the Tar Heels. And not just run-of-the-mill five-yard procedure penalties, but drive-killing, first-down-giving, major penalties. Carolina had more penalty yards (94) than rushing yards (67) against the Pirates. In this year's three losses, the Tar Heels now have 206 penalty yards and 267 rushing yards.
It's hard to get too upset about East Carolina throwing a long touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter; after all, the Carolina defense jumped offside on the play, giving the Pirates a chance at a free play, and they quickly capitalized. That's just one example of a situation when a UNC miscue turned into a big play for the opponent.
"The penalties are very frustrating," Larry Fedora told Jones Angell after the game. "We keep shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties and that's not playing smart."
2. It's tough to narrow down the defensive struggles to just one problem. Most everyone already knew the Tar Heels were short on defensive playmakers. That much has been apparent since the South Carolina game. But what was most surprising about ECU's 55-point explosion--the most ever scored by a Tar Heel in-state opponent--was the way Carolina seemed to struggle keeping up with the Pirate pace, especially in the first half. The Tar Heels practice against that same type of tempo every day, but looked staggered on several key early plays, including one late in the first half when they had just nine defenders on the field.
Most jarringly, in the last four home games, the Carolina defense has given up two of the three highest point totals in the 470-game UNC history at Kenan Stadium (68 against Georgia Tech, 55 against ECU).
"We had breakdowns in coverage, we had breakdowns in the front, we had missed tackles," Fedora said. "We've got a lot of work to do."
3. Quinshad Davis had a tremendous freshman campaign, but had been relatively quiet in the first three games of the season. That changed against East Carolina, as Davis hauled in five catches for 111 yards, including a great individual effort on a 56-yard touchdown catch:
He even threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Thorpe. Here's that throw:
Given the way the Tar Heel running game has struggled (A.J. Blue led the team with 68 yards on 20 carries), the Carolina offense needs as many pass-catching threats as possible to emerge. They now have back-to-back 100-yard receiving days from Eric Ebron (last week against Georgia Tech) and Davis.
Speaking of that running game: don't forget about T.J. Logan. The true freshman has missed the first four games with injuries. If he could work his way back into the tailback rotation, he has the ability and explosiveness to transform the offense.
4. One extra reaction, because it would be easy to overlook in the purple haze of the stunning loss: Military Appreciation Day has evolved into one of the signature events on the Kenan home schedule. Credit to the numerous staff who helped make it happen, from the individual salutes to the themed presentations on the video board. It wasn't enough to make up for the defeat, certainly. But with a lot of talk about what can be done to make the in-stadium experience more special than just watching the game on television, it was exactly the kind of themed event that made "being there" feel like part of something special.