The Battle for the Carolinas ended well for South Carolina, with the Gamecocks wining 27-10 over the UNC Tar Heels. It wasn't exactly a flawless performance, but I was generally impressed by how we played. We won by 17, easily covering an 11 1/2-point spread. For all the talk during the game about how our defense looked sloppy and gassed, we held the vaunted UNC offense to 10 points and 299 yards. The offense looked very good, showing an impressive degree of balance.
I know some folks would have loved to have seen us run the score up on UNC a bit more, but a 17-point win over a mid- to upper-tier ACC team is nothing to scoff at. Plus, I think we may have begun to ease up a little bit after going up 17-0 in the first quarter. Even still, I'm fairly certain we would have scored another TD or two if not for the lightning delay. Our offensive line was parting UNC's defense like the Red Sea prior to the delay, and I suspect the drive that that was interrupted would have been a long scoring romp if not for the breather UNC got from the delay. When the game resumed, UNC was better prepared to keep us from whipping them with a predictable rushing attack, and Spurrier was content to run out the clock instead of running his full offense.
Some of the things that pleased me on offense? The offensive line looked very good, particularly in run blocking. Granted, the opponent was a UNC team with an undersized defensive front, but after watching our offensive line struggle against mediocre defenses last year, I'm pleased to see any positive indications. The line also generally gave the QBs time to pass. A.J. Cann looks like the real deal. Guy laid a great trap block on Mike Davis's TD run.
The RBs looked great to me. Mike Davis averaged almost 10 ypc including the long run. Brandon Wilds is a load running the ball up the gut; reads the holes very nicely and is tough to take down. Both of these guys look strong, physical, and fast. Davis's combination of violent running and breakaway speed is unique and may make him a solid contender for an All-SEC spot this season.
QB play was very solid, particularly over on. Connor Shaw delivered some excellent passes and was dangerous on his feet. Thompson showed a lot of poise in picking the defense apart on his TD pass to Kane Whitehurst. Shaw had a couple of plays on which he looked tentative later in the game, but I'm not sure how much to make of what was happening at that point.
WR play was OK, I thought. It was good to see Shaq Roland have a big play; hopefully a taste of greatness on the big stage will give him confidence and motivation to keep getting better. There were some drops by the receivers, which was a little concerning, but with some key guys injured or limited, perhaps we shouldn't be too upset.
Defensively, I thought we overall played well. UNC averaged less than 5 yards per pass and less than 3 yards per carry. If UNC truly has a good offense, that's a good performance by our defenders.
A lot of attention went to Jadeveon Clowney, obviously, and you can expect that his every play will be heavily scrutinized. He did seem legitimately gassed, which is a little concerning, but it was hot and humid out there, and he reportedly had a minor stomach bug. Still, despite not having any "wow" plays, Clowney had a huge effect on the game. Other than a couple of drives when he seemed really beat, he was routinely disruptive despite all the double teams, roll outs to the other side, and so forth. It was clear that UNC's game plan was thoroughly shaped around trying to negate Clowney's impact, and he still had an impact. That's a good measure of a great pass-rushing defensive end, even if it's not a quality that's going to get him a lot of Heisman votes.
My main concern with the defense was that there was questionable pass coverage down field on a handful of plays. I thought our secondary and linebackers generally did a good job covering the short passes, but our safeties at times weren't in great position on key down field throws in third- and fourth-and-long situations. We need to get those kinks worked out before we face Aaron Murray, Malcolm Mitchell, and UGA next weekend.
Last shout out goes to Elliott Fry. Good first night, kid!
How will we fare against Georgia next week? Well, I'd like to see how Georgia plays against Clemson before I say. But I like our ability to move the ball against UGA, and particularly if we can establish the run early on, we should have our chance to win. Our pass defense is going to be tested, but I presume we'll see a different version of Clowney next week, and that will make a major difference. It's going to be a tough game, but I didn't see anything tonight that suggests that we shouldn't be ready to compete.