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UNC vs South Carolina: Three Things To Watch

Eight months of questions are about to start getting some answers.

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / USA Today Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

After a spring and summer full of transfers and realignment talk, football is finally about to really begin. The season starts with a bang tonight, as Florida faces off against Utah in an actual game, and just two days later we get to see Carolina take the field. It’s only been over eight months since the Holiday Bowl after all.

As part of our continuing preview of the game, here’s three things to watch for when the Tar Heels and Gamecocks take to the turf field in Charlotte Saturday night.

Emphasis on the run

It’s been pretty clear what Carolina is looking for with the hiring of Chip Lindsey as the offensive coordinator. The Air Raid isn’t going away, but when you have a star quarterback that’s a potential top NFL pick, you can’t have him also be your leading rusher.

Especially since Carolina has been down this road before.

The prior starting quarterback for the Tar Heels spent his last collegiate season becoming the team’s leading rusher, seeing his passing stats drop and it ultimately lead to disappointing season. It also killed his draft stock. The thought in a lot of circles was that Longo was gifted with exceptional talent in Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, and without those players he didn’t know how to run the ball. Right or wrong, Longo’s move to Wisconsin and Lindsey’s hiring indicates that the team wants to at least attempt to do more traditional running, while allowing Maye to focus more on the pass.

Expect the Tar Heels to focus on their running backs, at least to keep South Carolina honest, and they are hoping it provides enough success to take pressure off Maye. We’ll see how successful they are.

The rebuilt secondary

In short, South Carolina doesn’t really run, and neither does their quarterback Spencer Rattler. He passed for over 3,000 yards last season and apparently has looked even better in the offseason. He spread the ball around, and he may or may not have a game breaking first-team all-SEC player to get it to.

The secondary for Carolina is going to look completely different this year after multiple players and secondary coach Dre Bly moved on from the program. A lot of the new guys haven’t played an actual game together, and they get zero warm-up. Instead, they face a quarterback that is successful in throwing the ball and is chomping at the bit to test out this new group.

They don’t have to be 100% successful. Rattler is going to connect, but they do need to have more success than last season. Whether it’s increasing the pass breakups or actually picking off a throw or two, the secondary is going to be asked to help win this game for the Tar Heels and take some stress off the offense. We’ll know pretty quickly how much growing up they’ll have to do.

Drake Maye’s Spotlight

When you look at this Saturday’s slate, it did seem like a foregone conclusion that this game would get the ABC 7:30 spotlight. It’s also going to be the first time that the ESPN machine gets to hype up a potential top NFL draft pick and get the engines revving on the talk that’ll drive their other content for the next eight months.

Now is when the hype starts to turn into action. This offseason has helped us forget that Maye struggled mightily at the end of the 2022 season. Was that a sign of things to come, or was it more a result of a decimated running back corps and an unmentioned injury that seemed to be much better by the time the Holiday Bowl rolled around?

A great game by Maye will just build the hype, an OK game will likely mute it for a bit but can be easily overcome, and a rough game will send things into a panic. How he and the Tar Heels handle it will be a good sign for the rest of the year, and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles it all, regardless of the result.