There is an obvious question that comes to mind whenever two teams combine for 30 points in a game: was it outstanding defense or sloppy offense?
It is difficult to argue that the South Carolina offense was sloppy. Rather, it was a bit stagnant. Quarterback Connor Mitch completed nine of his 22 passes for 122 yards in his first start, while he finished as the team's third leading rusher with 44 yards. Mitch exhibited strong athleticism, though his accuracy throwing the football could obviously use some work.
Perry Orth took over in crunch time when Mitch was taken to the locker room.
South Carolina's Shon Carson scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 48-yard run, breezing down the sidelines and ultimately providing the difference on the scoreboard.
The Carson score capped off a four-play, 64-yard drive.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, were slain by turnovers. Mitch's counterpart, the far more experienced Marquise Williams, threw three picks on the day. Williams is one of the most dangerous dual threats in college football, but he averaged less than a yard per rush against the Gamecocks. Having said that, Williams had some noticeable chemistry with Bug Howard. Howard hauled in six balls for an impressive 114 yards and a touchdown.
UNC sophomore Elijah Hood exploded, carrying the ball 13 times for 138 yards. Howard and Hood were bright spots on an offense that certainly underachieved in this game. The Tar Heels averaged just shy of 30 points per game last season, though they did manage to score just ten points in a losing effort the last time they played the Gamecocks (opening day 2013).
However, Williams simply was not grooving in this game. His 232 passing yards would not necessarily tell you that, but the game film would.
Skai Moore intercepted Williams in the end zone on two occasions, in addition to tallying ten tackles on the evening. The middle linebacker nabbed two vital drive-killing picks, while strong safety Jordan Diggs also recorded an INT.
The Diggs interception was crucial. UNC led 13-10 at the time (midway through the third quarter), but the pick brought the drive to an abrupt halt and sent the momentum back in South Carolina's direction.
If Thursday's game was any indication, South Carolina's defense will force plenty of coverage sacks this season. The pass rush looked menacing, and the clever Williams struggled to evade the big boys up front on a handful of plays.
The Gamecocks also dealt with the shifty Ryan Switzer, not allowing the diminutive WR/return man to break free and find open field.
South Carolina conceded 52 points to Texas A&M in the season opener last season, so the impressive showing from an improving defensive unit was a welcome sight for the fans.
Steve Spurrier is clearly keen on getting the ball to Pharoh Cooper as much as possible, and while he finished with only three catches for 45 yards and a score, the playmaker was utilized in a variety of ways. An effective wildcat quarterback and a freak athlete, Cooper will be integral to this team's success moving forward.
UNC's Des Lawrence had a shot at a pick-six in the early going, but he was unable to hang onto the ball. He jumped the route in the flat and would have walked into the end zone, but the chance went begging.
That was, well, the difference in the game. Williams threw three passes that should have been picked, and all three were.
South Carolina will now prepare for its home opener against Kentucky next Saturday.