RALEIGH – For one team it was the start and for the other it was the finish.
North Carolina State piled on the points in the first half of its home opener against South Alabama before giving up a late score. while UNC found itself down big early against Louisville and came up short despite a valiant comeback effort.
After a setback against Tennessee and a defensive struggle at UConn, the Wolfpack made quick work of South Alabama with a fast start offensively.
“It was real important for the offense. It was real important for the team,” said quarterback Mike Glennon. “It just proved for the rest of the half that once we got that first touchdown, we were rolling.
“That's the way we want to come out from here on out.”
The lone blemish of the home opener was a fourth-quarter touchdown by the Jaguars to avoid being shutout. For the second week in a row, the Pack's defense gave up a late score, so Head Coach Tom O'Brien is preaching the importance of finishing to that unit.
"The last eight minutes of the game against Connecticut, 6:50 here Saturday night, you give up one big play that costs you a shutout,” O'Brien said. “You just can't do that. You have to keep your head in the game and keep working.”
The defense will face a different type of test this weekend with The Citadel bringing its triple option offense to town after knocking off FCS powers Georgia Southern and Appalachian State in successive weeks.
“It's going to be a challenge for us. We're going to have to go out there and play assignment football and make plays,” said linebacker Ricky Dowdy.
Saturday's matchup with The Citadel represents an opportunity for the Wolfpack to build on the momentum of a two-game winning streak against a team it should beat handily.
In Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels are dealing with the fact that a flat first half sunk their chances at Louisville.
“The last two weeks, we didn't have as much intensity coming out in the first half as we did in the second half,” defensive end Kareem Martin said. “The second half of the Wake Forest and the Louisville game, we came out really intense with a chip on our shoulders.”
In the second half, Romar Morris sparked the Heels with a punt block and two receiving touchdowns while filling in for injured All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard. Morris was named ACC Receiver of the Week.
“Honestly, you can probably say he kept us in the ballgame with that blocked punt and then scoring on that checkdown. Two touchdowns and, I think, 149 yards receiving, he did it all,” said quarterback Bryn Renner.
The Heels want to show that same big play capability on Saturday against in-state rival East Carolina, a squad it beat 35-20 last year in Greenville.
“They're going to come into our stadium and play hard no matter what,” UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora said. “They're still throwing the ball all over the park on offense and they've shown they can score some points.”
The Heels know a fast start is a must against a 2-1 Pirate team that beat Southern Miss last week and is capable of putting up points in a hurry. North Carolina can't look past this matchup because it is one that's circled on ECU calendar every year it's played.
“I like having North Carolina on the schedule,” said ECU Head Coach Ruffin McNeill. “I think it's great for our school. I'm not sure how they feel about it, but I enjoy them being on the schedule.”
The Pirates are well aware of the second half the Heels' offense had against Louisville and the man that engineers the offense, Renner, gets nothing but respect from McNeill.
“He's a coach's kid-type. He's been around the environment, not intimidated by the environment. He's a good football player,” said McNeill.
The Tar Heels kick off against the Pirates at 3:30 while the Wolfpack get going at 6 p.m. against the Citadel. Duke hosts Memphis at 6 p.m., while Wake Forest and Army have an early 12:30 p.m. kickoff.