Analysis of Thursday's UNC loss in Columbia presented some challenges because things were not always as they seemed on the surface. Sure, Carolina kept THE GREATEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER EVER (as hyped by ESPN) from writing his name all over the stat sheet, yet the Tar Heels gave him so much respect the entire game plan was changed. Much is rightly being made of the defensive lapses, but UNC held SCAR to right about 400 yards of total offense, nearly 1/3 of which came on the two long touchdown plays. T.J. Thorpe fell on his sword for the team after not falling on the football in the first half after a muffed punt, but although that gave the Gamecocks new life and three more points, the game swung in the second half when the Heels settled for three points and promptly gave up the back-breaking TD run. And after being punched in the mouth in the first quarter, Carolina settled down and played SCAR to a 10-10 draw for the last three periods. Clearly things are not as easily broken down as it might seem being on the wrong end of a 27-10 loss.
Still, there is plenty to fill in as we look at the good, bad, and ugly from Thursday:
Romar Morris and A.J. Blue: Morris and Blue did a capable job in game one A.G. (after Gio). They combined for 106 yards on 23 carries, and also combined for 4 catches for 31 more yards against a top-10 team. Solid day's work.
Offensive pacing and balance: The UNC offense ran a crisp 79 plays and had 36 runs and 43 passes. Moreover, there were 10 Tar Heels who caught passes. The offensive pace clearly wore down the Gamecocks as the game went on and if UNC could have put some points on the board, who knows?
Kicking game: Thomas Moore looked comfortable in place kicking, and Nick Weiler showed a cannon in kickoffs. Tommy Hibbard averaged a sharp 40.3 yards per punt and placed two inside the 20.
Containing Clowney: UNC's offensive line kept all-world Jadeveon Clowney at arm's length. Clowney only had three tackles, none for loss, and three quarterback hurries, two of which came on UNC's final, last-gasp possession late in the 4th quarter.
Bryn Renner: For such an experienced player, Renner certainly seemed to have the yips. He never looked comfortable and frequently threw off his back foot or never even got set. He was sacked three times and completed only 60% of his 43 passes, although his receivers had the dropsies a few times as well.
Red zone offense: In three trips to the red zone, Carolina scored a touchdown, a field goal, and was shut out on four downs from the 2 yard-line. This has been a Tar Heel bugaboo and you simply cannot allow good scoring chances go to waste against a top-10 opponent.
Defensive line: UNC put zero pressure on SCAR QB Connor Shaw, but that was not the issue of the night. They also were blown up in the rushing game, allowing the Gamecocks to rack up 228 yards on the ground at six yards per clip.
Defensive secondary: Stop me if you have heard this one before: blown assignments, bad angles, poor tackling. This unit had seemed to make at least some progress last year, but looked awful on Thursday. In addition to being burned for two wide-open TDs through the air, the poor tackling and bad angles showed up in run support as well.
So what do you take away from this game? As bad as the defense looked in spots, UNC gave up more yards and points in the final game last year at home against Maryland than they did on the road to SCAR. When the Heels get back to running their normal offense, stretching the field and maintaining an 80-play clip, Renner and his receivers may start clicking.
The biggest takeaway might be that UNC didn't roll over after the first quarter and will not likely face an opponent any tougher this season. While the result wasn't pretty, there are things to build on after this game and Carolina has a couple of extra days to get ready for a pretty decent Middle Tennessee team.