This season sees Carolina once more open their season against an SEC team as the Heels will travel to Charlotte to play South Carolina in Bank of America Stadium. South Carolina had a disappointing season last year, going 7-6, including only 3-5 in the SEC. The Wild Chickens will look to start their season off with a win against the Heels.
South Carolina has decided to give Connor Mitch his first collegiate start against Carolina in the opener. Mitch is a Raleigh native who has thrown six collegiate passes. There is no real scouting report on Mitch as he hasn't been a starting quarterback for anyone for three years (he is a red shirt Sophomore). Mitch is considered a pro-style quarterback who is not a notable dual threat and will mainly try to beat the Heels from inside the pocket. The players we do know about are Mitch's pass catchers. Mitch's top three targets in this game should be the two wide receivers Pharoh Cooper and Deebo Samuel and the tight end Jerell Adams(. Cooper is the only one of these players to receive regular targets last season, recording a 69 catch 1136 yard season last year. Cooper is a volume receiver rather than a burner and was the Wild Chicken's primary option last year. Samuel is relatively unknown mostly because he's a freshman. However, he has impressed the coaches in camp and has emerged as the clear #2 wide out. Tight end Adams is presently listed as doubtful for the game. If he plays he will most likely be the third target for Mitch to give him a safety valve in his first game. If not, redshirt freshman Kevin Crosby will step into Adams position.
No matter what happens with the passing game, the Heels will first need to stop the ground game. South Carolina lost its top back from last year, Mike Davis, to the NFL but will promote two strong backups to the starting role. Both David Williams and Brandon Wilds got significant touches last year, but, in their first year as primary starters, will need to improve their numbers to bring their team wins. Both backs excelled last year when playing weak opposition and then failed to produce when playing teams that could match their SEC offensive line. Carolina will need to match South Carolina's line play on defense but if they do that than neither of these two should be particularly impressive.
South Carolina was a middling SEC defense last year. The Wild Chickens were average or slightly below average against the run and the pass last year. They were not good at pressuring the quarterback last year or at forcing turnovers. The Heels should be able to move the ball on Thursday night. The main concern for the Heels should be their defensive line. Carolina's offensive line will have its hands full with an SEC line in their first game. This will be a big test for Carolina since last year Carolina struggled when confronted with large and physical defensive linemen. Lastly, Carolina should not face any issues scoring in this game as the Wild Chickens gave up just more than 30 points per game last year. As long as Marquise Williams has time to operate, the Heels should score enough for their own defense not to make this game unwinnable.
Make Connor Mitch beat you: The Heels will face a quarterback making his first start in college in an NFL stadium that will probably be filled to capacity. He will also only have three receivers who are worth worrying about. The Heels should throw seven guys in the box, stop the run and make Mitch put the team on his back to win.
Get on the board early: This is again designed to make it harder for the Wild Chickens to run the ball--also avoiding the Heels biggest weakness from a season ago. If Carolina scores early then it become much harder for South Carolina to adopt a ground and pound approach. Last year the Heels' offense was on the field for much less than half the game. If the Heels score early, the game will come much easier to them.
Show development: Most of all, the Heels need to show that this off-season has been put to good use. The Heels were beat up on both lines of scrimmage last year, but the lines were also young. This game will put them up against very physical SEC linemen, particularly when the Heels are on defense. This game will be a great way to show that the woes of last year are behind both lines and to serve as a good indication of how good they can be this year.