South Carolina started off strong in Thursday night's contest against North Carolina and was able to hold on, amid a lengthy weather delay, to win 27-10 over the Tarheels.
The Gamecocks came in with the hype due in large part to Jadeveon Clowney but it was some big plays from the offense that seemed to draw the attention along with the overall play of South Carolina's defense. Clowney's numbers have been dissected already as well as his conditioning by the national media since he didn't fill the stat sheet with tackles or sacks, but his impact was felt all game long. There also may be a real duo at running back with Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds and we may finally see what Shaq Roland can do at wide receiver.
It was a good win for the Gamecocks, who generally struggle in season openers, but there is certainly some improvement that can be made as they get ready for the huge Week Two game with the Georgia Bulldogs to open the SEC season.
Now, here are some Second Thoughts from South Carolina's victory over North Carolina:
--Mike Davis has the look of a star running back. He was a highly-touted recruit coming in last season with a four-star ranking and offers from several big schools but ultimately chose the Gamecocks. The move paid off early as he got some playing time as a true freshman finishing the 2012 season with 52 carries for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season and certainly looked the part filling in for Marcus Lattimore at times last year. With Lattimore gone, it became time for someone to step up and Davis was the man for the job.
Last night was a perfect example. He started off strong and finished strong and finished the games with 12 carries for 115 yards and one touchdown run of 75 yards. The long touchdown run was a thing of beauty. Another impressive thing about his performance was there was no loss of yardage for Davis on any run. To me, he fought hard for every yard he gained and kept moving forward. That's what you want in a running back and he's certainly shown he can be the guy for the Gamecocks.
A mix of power and speed. What's not to love?
--Jadeveon Clowney was a force last night whether you want to believe it or not. Sure, he only had three tackles and ended up with no sacks. He had .5 tackles for loss. No big numbers from a guy you've seen on TV everyday since January 1st. It didn't matter. Clowney is so much of a dominant threat during the game that you have to gameplan and try to avoid him at all costs. He constantly saw double teams last night and plays were ran away from him to make sure he couldn't affect the play in anyway. But there were things that don't show up in the stat sheet. With all the attention, Clowney still showed pressure on the Tarheels. He was in the backfield several times, nearly came up with a few sacks and chased down some Tarheels across the field a few times.
The media is making a big deal out of him looking like he's out of shape with his performance last night. What they don't seem to want to admit was that Clowney admitted to having a stomach virus and barely slept the night before the game. He also ate very little food. So, yeah, that would be something that could affect your energy level against a major college football team. Still, Clowney did enough to draw attention and the Gamecocks defense held strong for most of the night. The Tarheels finished with just 293 yards of total offense last night and were held to just 99 yards rushing for an average of 2.8 yards per carry. Last year they averaged 485.6 yards of total offense. So yeah, South Carolina did well last night and Clowney was a reason why.
--Shaq Roland finally showcased that he's capable of making the big plays. The sophomore came in with hype in 2012 but failed to step up on offense last year and never made an impact. It took three plays before Roland made an impact this year. He broke free on a post-route and caught a perfectly thrown ball from Connor Shaw for a 65-yard touchdown. He missed a chance to catch a second touchdown of the night as he cut across the middle and dropped a ball that seemingly hit him in the hands. A defender may have affected his view of the ball which could explain the drop but he was open and ran a good route to get there. He finished with 2 catches for 75 yards but the one long touchdown catch is a glimpse of what you can expect from Roland. It looks like he's ready to shine this year.
--The Legend of Kane Whitehurst probably reached Heisman levels Thursday night. The diminutive walk-on wide receiver broke free and cut across the field to catch a well-thrown ball from Dylan Thompson for a 29-yard touchdown. Whitehurst wasn't listed on the depth chart heading into the game but he's got talent to be a nice player for South Carolina. Remember, he was on scholarship at Arkansas before walking on to South Carolina. Maybe his catch Thursday night will give him a chance to get more involved in the offense. I guess we'll see what happens as the season goes on but there may just be a place for him after all.
--A few freshman defenders showcased their talents on Thursday night in linebacker Skai Moore and defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin. Moore finished the game with six tackles with one tackle for loss while Griffin had four tackles .5 tackles for loss and .5 sacks on the night. Moore was expected to play due to limited linebacker experience coming into the game and he seemed to be in on a lot of plays last night. Griffin was a bit of a surprise to play, not because he wasn't talented enough, it just seemed that the defense tackle position had enough players that he may not make it into the rotation. Griffin wasn't listed on the depth chart for the UNC game, just like Whitehurst, but still got in and made an impact. Griffin impressed and will likely earn more playing time as the year goes on. I'm sure he's excited about the opportunity to face Georgia next week, a team he tried to commit to at one point in time last fall.
--I'm going to say it. Victor Hampton scares me as a returner. He has the potential to make people miss and pick up a big play but he just seems to be a bit too careless for the position. Against UNC, he had several opportunities to return kicks and he just seemed to be one hit away from losing the football. I think he keeps his head up and is looking downfield to make the play but doesn't get a sense of his surroundings and was hit hard a few times last night. He even left injured at one point in the game. To me, he's too valuable at cornerback to be used as a returner for the Gamecocks. I think it's time to get someone else ready to take over the position for Hampton. I know Ellington was limited last night which is why Hampton had to return kickoffs as well. I'd like to see someone else work on punt returns in the future. Let's get Shon Carson back there or Pharoh Cooper and see what they can do.
--Elliott Fry surprised me last night. Not that he couldn't do it, I was just impressed at how well he struck the ball in those situations. His first kick, the 39-yard field goal, would have been my guess as to about the maximum amount of length he could kick in a game situation. However, Fry nailed it with plenty of distance. If he can continue to kick like that, I think he could be a guy that could hit consistently from 45 yards and in for South Carolina. I originally envisioned a lot of fourth down attempts in this range but maybe, just maybe, Fry can handle the job. That's pretty big to say for a true freshman from Texas that weighs around 150 pounds. Once he gets more comfortable as a kicker, he could be a real good one down the line.
--I thought the offensive line did a solid job last night. They opened holes for the running game and the quarterbacks, well mainly Connor Shaw, had enough time to make some plays happen in the passing game. For a unit that has struggled during fall camp, I think it was a good start against some good competition in North Carolina.
--It was extremely hot yesterday. I can't imagine what it was like on the field in those conditions trying to play football. It was, by Columbia standards, a fairly mild summer but Thursday seemed to be the hottest day in recent months here in Columbia. As expected, players cramped and struggled at times. Overall though, it seemed like the Gamecocks were in good condition and the offseason workouts got the Gamecocks ready for last night. The UNC offense is one built for quick tempo and the few times they got the offense going, it gave USC fits and kept them on the field for long period of times. Players will get tired. It happens. But they held them to 10 points and nearly 200 yards of offense off of their season average from last year. Good job in my opinion.
I like where South Carolina is at after their first game of the season. It was nice seeing Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis run the ball extremely well, Connor Shaw be an effective quarterback, the offensive line do a good job and the defense shutting down a high-powered offense. You can always get better and you usually do from week one to week two. It'll be important for improvement to be shown during practice this week as they head to Georgia next week for a big time matchup. This game will be a "put up or shut up" scenario for South Carolina. They can firmly establish themselves as national title contenders with a win in Athens. The UGA defense is replacing seven starters from last year's unit and the Gamecocks have won three straight against the Bulldogs.
Can we have a second four-peat over a bitter rival? Yes we can. Will we do it? We'll find out on September 7th.
Aren't you glad Gamecock football has returned?