In some ways, South Carolina's opening game went about as well as the Gamecocks could have expected. South Carolina had a 17-0 lead on UNC before the first quarter was done. Connor Shaw looked solid early, and the Gamecocks were easily shutting down a pretty good North Carolina offense despite the up-tempo pace.
And even after North Carolina tried to work its way back into the game, there were positive signs for South Carolina. Brandon Wilds displayed a physical running style that didn't exactly rival Marcus Lattimore -- no one could -- but showed that the Gamecocks might be okay without their workhorse back. Mike Davis also showed the element he brings to the game with a 75-yard touchdown run that left Tar Heel defenders diving to try to catch him.
But even before lightning strikes halted the game in the fourth quarter, it was already turning out to be less of a party than South Carolina fans had hoped for after the first quarter or so. The impressive 17-0 lead had given way to a less gaudy but more tense 27-10 margin, which would end up being the final score. Shaw was cooling off significantly. And Jadeveon Clowney was pretty obviously taking plays off -- when he was on the field at all.
Overall, the Gamecocks didn't play that poorly. They outgained North Carolina by 101 yards, 400-299. Despite all the talk of the up-tempo offense tiring the Gamecocks defense -- and it did -- they still held the Tar Heels to less than 3.8 yards per play.
On the other hand, they didn't play that well. The six penalties for 50 yards aren't bad -- but many of the flags were dumb, and almost all of them seemed to come at the worst possible time. Clowney ended the game without a sack on the first night of his Heisman campaign, and Shaw and his receivers weren't always on the same page.
First games are first games, and South Carolina fans know that perhaps as well as any other fan base in the conference. They've looked impressive launching 7-5 campaigns and unimpressive as they embarked on 11-2 seasons. So maybe this team is the one that came out and punched UNC in the mouth for the first 15 minutes. Or maybe it's the one that seemed to struggle a bit with the Tar Heels later on.
More likely, it's somewhere in between. But the Gamecocks had better find out quickly. They go to Athens to face Georgia next week, and there's no margin for the nagging errors that took away from an otherwise heady night in Columbia.