As Drake Maye and the Carolina offense prepare to take on Shane Beamer’s Gamecocks on September 2nd at the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium, he’ll be paying special attention to a secondary that ended last year’s regular season on a high.
South Carolina lost two starters, Cam Smith and Darius Rush, to the NFL Draft last April. But they look like they’ll be ably replaced by veterans O’Donnell Fortune (who had a pick-six against Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl)...
... and Marcellas Dial, who finished the season with three interceptions and 15 passes-defensed.
The safeties are young and talented. True sophomores Nick Emmanwori and DQ Smith were both Freshman All-Americans (Emmanwori first-team, Smith third-team) in explosive debut seasons. When lined up with Fortune and Dial, this secondary combines to be one of the tallest UNC will face in 2023—everyone is 6’ or taller.
Last season, South Carolina had the NCAA’s 27th ranked passing defense with an efficiency rating of 121.76 (compare that with UNC’s abhorrent 146.71 rating, good for 115 out of 131 teams). The rushing defense, though? You’d have to look towards the bottom of the rankings at #117. The Gamecocks surrendered 198 rushing ypg, and opponents put 23 rushing touchdowns past them last season. To put that in perspective, Carolina’s rushing defense that caused Tar Heel fans to pull fistfuls of hair out of their heads was ranked #86 and only gave up 165.2 rushing ypg.
With a Josh Downs-sized hole in the offense, Drake Maye and first year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey might be best served attacking South Carolina’s vaunted secondary with a heavy dose of an improved rushing attack.
British Brooks, who looked feisty during the Spring Game, should be back in the mix. He’ll be buoyed by sophomores Omarion Hampton and George Pettaway, as well as last year’s starter Elijah Green and perhaps a fully-healed Caleb Hood. There’s no shortage of bodies to throw at a Gamecock defense that should bleed rushing yards in the first game of the season.
If the Heels have initial success rushing, they can attack match-ups downfield with newcomers Tez Walker and Nate McCollum, as well as returning contributors Kobe Paysour, Gavin Blackwell, and Andre Greene. Drake Maye also had great chemistry with his triumvirate of tight ends. Bryson Nesbit, Kamari Morales, and John Copenhaver should be tipped to eclipse their 2022 touchdown total of 8.
As long as the Tar Heels don’t surrender points in a hurry and force the offense to hunt points quickly through the air, Mack Brown should try to force South Carolina’s defense to help against the rush. If they can do this, Drake Maye may find joy against a fearsome secondary. If not, we may need a Heisman-worthy performance from the junior quarterback to go 1-0.