This is a very interesting game to evaluate since North Carolina looked good in parts but also had some head shaking moments, particularly on defense. Factor in this game was played on the road against a very good South Carolina team, it is easy to walk away still feeling optimistic about the rest of the season despite UNC losing 27-10.
The game can really be boiled down to a couple of aspects. The first is the defense which couldn't stop South Carolina in the first quarter which included giving up a 65-yard TD pass that saw Tim Scott get burned up the middle. That score was part of a 17-0 opening quarter salvo from the Gamecocks. It was UNC getting smacked in the mouth and dazed before the ship was righted with some adjustments in the 2nd quarter that finally saw UNC string some stops together.
In addition to the defensive problems, the offense had various issues moving the ball on first and second down. This led to far too many third and long situations which are obvious passing downs making it easier for the Gamecock defense to cover. Bryn Renner looked a little tentative in the first half and only threw for 79 yards. Some of that was dropped passes from his receivers and in some cases Renner seemed a little off and antsy. Quinshad Davis was rarely targeted and had two catches before halftime, one of those for a touchdown. Likewise Eric Ebron wasn't nearly as productive as he will need to be going forward. The bottom line is the stalled offense on first and second down proved to limit what the Tar Heels could do.
Trailing 20-7 at the start of the second half, UNC opened with a very impressive drive that ultimately yielded only three point. However Renner did finally start clicking and the offensive tempo began to really wear on South Carolina's defense. Despite not getting a touchdown, there was a notable shift in momentum, that is until the Tar Heel defense hit the field again. Gamecock tailback Mike Davis took the handoff on the first play after the kickoff, bounced out of a tackle and rolled 75 yards to put South Carolina up 27-10. From there the game bogged down and then stopped altogether with 8:20 left by a thunderstorm induced weather delay that lasted almost two hours. UNC's last real chance to make it interesting came with an offensive possession shortly after play resumed. However a penalty then sack forced a Tar Heel punt on 4th and 47. UNC did get a 1st and goal in the final two minutes but failed to score.
Looking at this game in the context of the rest of UNC's season, the defense is the only truly worrisome aspect. The offense is going to be productive since the Tar Heels will not see another defense as good as South Carolina the rest of the way. The running game won't be what it was with Gio Bernard but Romar Morris and A.J. Blue were largely effective, especially when the Gamecock defense began to wear down. Morris and Blue combined for 106 yards rushing on 23 carries. That should be enough to balance the offense and keep opposing defenses honest. Ebron and Davis will have their share of big games as will Renner. As was the case last season, the offense won't be the issue. The defense is the concern from tackling to general execution and until both of those improve, the offense will need to score early and often.