We open our season-long run of digital simulations with the showdown of the Carolinas. UNC's rating is equal to that of South Carolina based on the rosters I downloaded—does it follow that we'll see a tight game?
I set the depth charts for both teams based on those that were released over the past couple of days. To address a few personnel matters: even though it's possible Rory Anderson and (more likely) Bruce Ellington could play, I decided to err on the side of caution and sit them. Same goes for Cedrick Cooper. I used Landon Ard for both place kicks and kickoffs roles for the sake of simplicity.
USC wins the toss, and will elect to kick. Away we go!
Tarheels actually return the opening kickoff for a score, but a clipping penalty brings it all the way back to their own 29. On the ensuing drive, JT Surratt is called for two roughing the passer penalties. UNC drives, but it stalls out at the 20 yard line. 37 yard field goal is good. 3-0, UNC.
South Carolina's opening drive: three and out. Punt.
UNC has it now. Two more roughing penalties, first Kaiwan Lewis and then Kelcy Quarles—it's an epidemic. Thankfully, DigiClowney slows the momentum with a sack:
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South Carolina forces UNC to settle for another field goal. 6-0, UNC.
On the next drive, Shaw and Davis trade off runs, gaining a pair of first downs. Two plays later on 3rd and 9, Shaw hits Mike Davis on a screen that goes for 28 yards:
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USC presses on, and it's now 1st and goal at the 1 yard line. But three negative or no-gain runs follow. It's 4th and goal, and the quarter ends.
Quarter Two begins with Landon 'Linkin' Ard chipping in a field goal. It's 6-3, UNC.
Renner is humming—he connects on consecutive passes for 23 and 17 yards respectively. Ball is on the South Carolina side of the 50, but the defense forces a 4th and 2. UNC will try for it, and this happens:
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DigiClowney DigiComin'. Turnover on downs.
Shaw capitalizes on the momentum, orchestrating a beautiful eight play drive, four of which go for 10+ yards and one for 9. On 2nd and 1 at the 3 yard line, Shaw hands it to Connor McLaurin for a 3 yard fullback dive. PAT is good. 10-6, USC.
UNC gets the ball, and on the fourth play of the drive Renner is picked off by Jimmy Legree:
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Legree brings it back to the UNC 26. South Carolina is unable to do much with it in three plays, but Ard's foot extends the lead, 13-6.
North Carolina responds. Renner takes advantage of an all-out blitz, dumping the ball off to tight end Eric Ebron, who scampers for 39 yards. But once again, UNC stalls deep in South Carolina territory and settles for its third field goal of the half. 13-9, USC.
South Carolina gets the ball back with 1:21 left in the half. Their drive begins promisingly enough, but with the ball at midfield, Shaw is sacked twice in three plays (sandwiching a clipping call) which leads USC to bleed out the clock and take the 13-9 lead into the locker room.
South Carolina gets the ball out of the half, but promptly goes three and out.
North Carolina begins its drive with a 25 yard bubble screen to Quinshad Davis. Chaz Sutton then sacks Renner on the ensuing play. Another 25 yard completion to Davis moves UNC well into USC territory, but yet another stalled drive results in a field goal attempt. It's good—13-12, USC.
Another three and out for USC. The half is starting with a thud for the DigiCock offense.
UNC starts at its own 40. They're moving the ball, but worth noting that starting RB Romar Morris is hit at the tail end of a 7 yard run, and will miss the rest of the game with a concussion. The next play—3rd and 1—Mason Harris makes a tackle for loss, and UNC, for the fifth time in its seven drives, kicks a field goal. But this time, they reclaim the lead. 15-13, UNC.
On the ensuing drive, another 3 and out looked imminent but Shaw connected with Shaq Roland on 3rd and 11 for a big gain:
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Shaw runs for a total of 31 yards on the next 5 plays, and the Gamecocks have it 1st and goal on the 3. Handoff to Mike Davis—touchdown! The chart says to go for two. Shaw will scramble, and he won't get it—and he's slow to get up. DigiDylan Thompson warms up on the sideline. It's 19-15, USC.
North Carolina starts on its own 24. After a four yard pass, Clowney gets another tackle for loss. Three plays later, he beats his man and slows down Renner—Chaz Sutton cleans up the mess for his 2nd sack of the game. UNC eventually punts.
Dylan Thompson is in, and he immediately connects with Jerell Adams for a gain of 10. Thompson is in for a total of 4 plays, which see the DigiCocks gain 36 yards. Shaw's back on the field and picks up where Thompson left off. A few plays later, it's 1st and 10 at the UNC 14. Then this happens:
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Touchdown Davis, and after the PAT it's 26-15. 4:53 remains. (And yes, that was injured IRL Mike Matulis who threw a crushing downfield block, but for some reason Mason Zandi wasn't on my roster.)
North Carolina has some momentum, but finds itself in a 4th and 5 situation at the USC 44. They have to go for it, and a busted coverage allows Renner to complete a 40 yard pass to Kendrick Singleton. It's now 1st and goal on the 6 yard line. A touchdown and two point conversion would bring North Carolina within three.
Renner takes the snap, and has a man open in the corner of the endzone. He unloads:
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Picked off by Kadetrix "JJ" Marcus in the back of the endzone. Badly placed throw by Renner, and UNC's hopes for a comeback have all but vanished.
South Carolina runs three conservative plays, which allows them to bleed the clock down to just under 2 minutes. But they'll have to punt. Coverage is good, and the return is minimal. UNC will start at its own 36.
South Carolina immediately forces a 4th down, but UNC converts it. It's now 1st and 10 at midfield. Renner drops back and throws to the sideline:
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Renner's third interception of the day, this time to Victor Hampton, will allow South Carolina to run out the clock.
Final Score: 26-15, South Carolina.
|C. Shaw||20-24, 164 yards, 16 rushes, 53 yards|
|M. Davis||23 rushes, 89 yards, 2 TD, 5 rec., 33 yards, Player of the Game|
|S. Roland||6 rec., 80 yards|
|J. Clowney||5 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack|
|USC secondary||3 INT|
|B. Renner||31-45, 331 Yards, 3 INT|
|UNC rushing||18 carries, 13 yards|
|Q. Davis||9 receptions, 104 yards|
|T. Moore||5-5 field goals
|Red Zone||4-5 (4 FG)||5-5 (3 TD, 2 FG)|
|Turnovers||3 (3 INT)||0|
|Time of Poss.*||41%||59%|
*I'm using percentages because the quarter length was reduced to 8 minutes to reflect more realistic play counts.
What's interesting about the simulation is that it isn't farfetched, based on what we expect out of this team. If nothing else, it's a glimpse into what South Carolina is likely to have to do to win: offset UNC's fast paced attack with a stifling run defense—snagging those interceptions didn't hurt either—and buckle down on third down and in the red zone. Had UNC managed a touchdown on any of those five scoring drives, it entirely changes the complexion of the game. Instead, they only manage 12 points in five redzone visits.
Most importantly, South Carolina avoided big mistakes, North Carolina didn't. While DigiUSC was hardly dominant in any phase of the offensive game, they moved the ball in the way we've come to expect: zone read, short to midrange passes, Connor making things happen with his feet. They weren't perfect, but such a strong defense meant they didn't have to be.
So anyway, let's all remember that this is a wildly unscientific simulation and doesn't offer any real evidence of how Thursday night will play out, but it's at least a believable scenario. If the above were the actual game log, I doubt any of us would be particularly surprised.
Next week, we'll see how the real life action stacked up to EA's version, and then get our sim on against the Georgia Bulldogs.