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September 21, 2009North Carolina's offense exploded for 31 points in its victory Saturday over East Carolina, but it was the Tar Heel defensive line that really paved the way for the victory over the Pirates.
The numbers tell the story---the UNC defense picked up two sacks, allowed just 1.8 yards per rushing carry by the ECU running backs (55 net yards in 30 attempts), and held the Pirates to just 13 first downs and 6-of-16 (38 percent) third down percentage over the course of the game.
"The rock-solid core of this football team right now clearly is our defense. That's the anchor that you hang onto, that you know they're going to go out and they're going to compete," said UNC head coach Butch Davis. "Robert Quinn was spectacular. The pressure he had off the corners always gave us a chance to kind of keep them behind the count. "
Quinn was his usual dominating self, recording four tackles and both of UNC's sacks, covering a total loss of 17 yards.
"I think we played great," said Quinn. "My blood was pumping the whole game. I'm sure everybody else's was, especially the ones from North Carolina. I guess once we just got up and saw that win getting closer and closer we just got hungrier and played harder and harder."
Things didn't start out according to plan for the UNC defense when East Carolina scored a touchdown midway through the first quarter following a Tar Heel fumble, but from there UNC held the Pirates to just one more touchdown in the second quarter and just three points in the entire second half.
It began and ended up front, as the Tar Heel front four manhandled the Pirates and wore them down over the course of the afternoon.
"We had to overcome some adversity off their first drive. We just went out there and stepped up. We're just striving to be the nation's top defense," said Quinn.
"When adversity came we went out there and put the fire out, and then they had a little drive or whatever but we never stopped," said junior Marvin Austin. "We went out there, put the fire out, and got the 'W.'"
The game with East Carolina was personal for UNC's players for a lot of reasons.
In addition to being a key in-state rival, many of the current Tar Heel players remembered what it was like to lose to the Pirates two years ago.
Given some of the things that were said in the days leading up to the game, there was no way Carolina's defensive linemen weren't going to be ready to play.
"I respect the game and I respect the players of the game, and I never really talk about another guy or whatever. I just go out there and show up," said Austin. "One of their guards was just yapping off at the mouth, and we had to shut him up real quick. He wanted to see me pretty much. When he got out there he put his blinders on and didn't want to see me any more.
"Their offensive guard was asking for No. 9. Well, he got No. 9. How fun was it?" Austin added.
UNC strength coach Jeff Connors provided some insight from his time at East Carolina to provide further motivation to the front four of the Tar Heels.
"He (Connors) talked about when he was at ECU, and what they thought about us, how they thought we were the 'Haves' and they were the 'Have Nots.' We were some prima donnas," Austin said. "They talked a lot of junk, man, and like Coach Davis said, 'Talk is cheap.' Somebody please tell ECU that. Please tell them."
Although Quinn didn't get caught up in the back-and-forth debate---and as a South Carolina native he isn't fully in-tune with the North Carolina angle of the UNC-ECU rivalry and unlike Austin didn't have the 2007 loss to fuel his fire---all he knew was that somebody in a different-colored jersey stood in his way.
That's all it took, an attitude which surely brings a smile to his coach's face.
"I guess it's a little different for me because I'm not from North Carolina, but it's a different team that's not us so I'm going out there and playing my hardest and try to get a win," Quinn said.
"We've got a lot of 'Carolina' kids, and obviously playing good against the other state schools is important," said Davis. "It's important to the fans. It's important to the alumni. But it's not any more important than just winning the game and being 3-0. Now that's the most important thing."
"It wouldn't have mattered who we would have played today," he added. "For us to continue to be a good football team, you want to keep playing well. You want to keep growing."
The collective weight that the UNC defensive linemen lost during the offseason seemed to really pay dividends Saturday, as the Tar Heels seemed considerably fresher and quicker off the ball than their East Carolina counterparts in the third and fourth quarters.
"Conditioning-wise, we've got Coach Connors, who's one of the best strength coaches in the country," said Austin. "We already knew that they couldn't hang with us in the fourth quarter. They've lost all their games in the fourth quarter, and the fourth quarter is when we come to play. We just had that in the back of our mind, and when it was time to go get it, we went and got it and held them to a field goal."
With each passing game and with each solid performance (the Tar Heels are allowing just 11 points per game through three outings so far this season) comes even more swagger and confidence to this group of immensely-talented defensive linemen.
"I had my war paint on today, because we're some warriors, man. We're some monsters out there. We got it done. It felt good so beat those people (ECU), man," said Austin.
"We've got a lot of guys with 'swag.' We don't have too many squares on defense," he added. "We've got some real live guys over there, and we just got the job done. I just want to say 'Thanks' to my defense, the whole defense, for going out there and doing our job."
With the celebration of Saturday's triumph now behind them, Monday starts the task of getting back to work for the next opponent, Atlantic Coast Conference rival Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
"ECU, you know this gets the ball rolling," said Austin." Hopefully we've just got to get prepared for Georgia Tech. I can't wait for next week."