No. 6 South Carolina looked every bit like a Top 10 team in its 27-10 win over North Carolina Thursday night in the first official game of the 2013 college football season.
The Tar Heels came to Williams-Brice Stadium with an upset on their minds, but head coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks were having none of it.
Led by touchdown passes from quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, South Carolina jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and held North Carolina in check the rest of the way en route to a comfortable victory.
ESPN's Edward Aschoff noted the strength of the Gamecocks defensive line in the win:
Led by a few big plays on offense and timely defensive stops, South Carolina will enter next week's prime-time clash with No. 5 Georgia unscathed.
Between quick scores, long drives, a lightning delay, a jersey malfunction and a rivalry renewed, the opening game of the new season had a little bit of everything for the college football fan.
Before either team saw the field, Bleacher Report's CFB account reminded us that while the build-up for the NC-SC clash felt perfect, the stitching on one particular uniform wasn't quite on par:
It took South Carolina less than 90 seconds to strike first, as Shaw launched a 65-yard pass to wide receiver Shaq Roland on the third play of the game. Streaking past the corner on a post route, Roland beat the coverage and cruised into the end zone for the first score of the new year.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde, folks in Columbia were hardly surprised by Roland's early reception for six:
After North Carolina's first possession ended in a punt, South Carolina went on a 12-play drive that ended with a field goal. Spurrier checked Dylan Thompson into the game on the team's next possession, and the backup QB found Kane Whitehurst on a 29-yard score to give the Gamecocks an impressive 17-0 lead before the second quarter.
UNC battled back, as senior QB Bryn Renner connected with Quinshad Davis for a four-yard touchdown to cap a 16-play drive from the Tar Heels.
However, the Gamecocks added a field goal just before the half to take a 20-7 lead to the locker room.
The visitors came out motivated and went on another long drive to start the second half, picking up a field goal by Thomas Moore to conclude a 17-play drive. Michael Haney of 107.5 The Game in Columbia, S.C., was among the population who appreciated the length of the drive but lamented North Carolina scoring just three points:
It ended up costing the Tar Heels sooner than later.
Running back Mike Davis broke free for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of South Carolina's next drive. In his first career start for the Gamecocks, Davis did wonders in helping Columbia faithful get over the loss of Marcus Lattimore to the NFL.
As noted by ESPN's Stats & Info, it was a game of firsts for the sophomore back:
The long TD proved to be the final score of the game. A long lightning delay halted play for an hour with eight minutes and change in the fourth quarter, but neither team did anything with the ball once the action resumed at roughly 10:30 p.m. ET.
Davis finished with 115 yards rushing on 12 carries. Shaw had 149 yards on 11-of-20 passing for the winning side, while Renner finished 26-of-43 for 194 yards passing for North Carolina.
It was an anticlimactic night for most of the night for star Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who struggled with conditioning issues all night and looked visibly winded despite telling Josh Kendall of The State earlier this month that he was "really in shape" for 2013.
We did have a bit of drama surrounding Clowney late in the game when an opposing lineman cut him from behind on the tail end of a Tar Heel play.
As noted by B/R's Matt Miller, it's both disturbing to see a play like that occur and a relief to see Clowney walk off the field under his own power:
With all the excitement surrounding Clowney and even the new season, it's hard to remember that we just started Week 1.
Raise a glass to college football, folks. It's back, and these two Carolinas got us off to a great start on Thursday night.
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: C
The last time we saw Clowney on a football field, he was terrorizing the University of Michigan offense. Now, he's one of the rare players who is expected to contend for the Heisman on the defensive side of the ball.
If he wants to strike a pose in January, he'll need to first get his conditioning up to par.
Clowney was visibly gassed from the second quarter on, pulling himself on several occasions and showing minimal pursuit on others. Heck, even The Bachelor's Sean Lowe had to weigh in on the proceedings:
ESPN reminded fans to keep perspective and exercise patience regarding Clowney's lack of game-changing plays:
While Clowney faces impossible expectations this season, his effort was not on par with what you would normally see from a player who is currently the unquestioned No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
RB Romar Morris, North Carolina: B
North Carolina had a hard time moving the ball on the ground, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry on the evening.
Morris was a bright spot in that effort, rushing 15 times for 69 yards (he also had a long gain negated by a holding call). NFL draft analyst Darren Page observed:
He showed nice burst after handoffs and contributed in the passing game on a couple of short screen passes. Against a defensive line expected to dominate this year, Morris put together a solid effort.
As the Tar Heels move forward this season, it will be interesting to see how the allotment of snaps is distributed between Morris and A.J. Blue, who produced 37 yards on eight carries.
QB Connor Shaw, South Carolina: A-
We've seen good Shaw and bad Shaw, and this was a consistent Shaw who took care of the ball and did his job well against a game opponent.
His early strike to Roland gave the Gamecocks a quick lead, and as is the norm with Shaw, he also rushed for 43 yards to help keep the defense off balance.
The biggest stat from Shaw's line? Zero turnovers—something that should help the Gamecocks win/preserve more than a few games this year.
North Carolina has just one more non-conference game before ACC action begins, and it's also the team's first home contest of the season. The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders will visit Kenan Memorial Stadium next weekend.
After a bye week, North Carolina faces Georgia Tech in Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sept. 21 with early ACC bragging rights on the line.
For South Carolina, there will be no more SEC dress rehearsals. No. 5 Georgia is the team's next opponent, and the Gamecocks will travel to Athens' Sanford Stadium for a game that could have national championship implications next Saturday.
Vanderbilt, Central Florida and Kentucky are the following three opponents on South Carolina's schedule.
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