UNC started their season with a 31-17 win over South Carolina in Charlotte as Mack Brown hit the century mark as coach of the Tar Heels. Drake Maye looked solid in the first action of his junior season, despite being without his top two receiver options, and the defense looked worlds away from what we saw last year.
The Carolina defense gave the Gamecocks absolutely nothing on the ground, holding them to just 11 yards for the game. Even the much-hyped Spencer Rattler looked rather pedestrian without a touchdown in the loss. Much of the credit for that goes to how the Tar Heel defense played. Third down was particularly brutal for the South Carolina offense, going 4-14 when trying to extend the drive.
British Brooks was responsible for the majority of the yardage for the UNC running backs with 103 yards, but Omarion Hampton had both of the touchdowns on the ground. Kobe Paysour and John Copenhaver had the touchdowns from Maye through the air. Carolina was forced to punt for just the first time with just over 6:30 left in the game.
Despite the fact that the Tar Heels had multiple opportunities to put South Carolina away at the beginning of the fourth quarter, two ill-timed interceptions left the door open. The first one was a rare mistake from Maye, the second was a ball that hit Paysour in the hands before it was batted up into the air and into the hands of the defense.
With the Gamecocks having a chance to make things interesting, the defense managed to keep pressure on Spencer Rattler, forcing him into throwing the ball away to avoid the sack. UNC was able to consistently get past the South Carolina offensive line to disrupt Rattler throughout the game. It certainly helped make up for the miscues on offense and kept momentum from swinging too far in South Carolina’s direction.
Down at the half with UNC slotted to get the ball first in the third quarter, South Carolina executed some trickery by turning the opening kickoff of the half into an onside kick. It skirted just beyond the necessary ten yards before being recovered by the kicker. Fortunately, the UNC defense made sure it was ado about nothing.
It’s hard to say enough good things about the defense. Gene Chizik’s group really made their presence felt in this one, putting up nine sacks that represented a large chunk of the sacks they had in the entirety of last year. Cedric Gray, Kaimon Rucker, and Amari Gainer were absolute forces.
We’ve been waiting for what feels like forever at this point for the defense to take a step forward and not be a liability. If tonight is how things are going to be this season, it will be extremely welcome. Here’s hoping!
It was certainly an encouraging first look at this year’s team, especially with the disruptions outside of their control making things more difficult. Now if the NCAA can actually do the right thing and grant Tez Walker his rightful eligibility we can all really see what this offense is capable of.
The Tar Heels are back in action next week as they welcome Appalachian State to Chapel Hill for the home opener.