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UNC vs. South Carolina: Player of the Game - Kaimon Rucker

The Butcher was the first among equals on a defensive line realizing its vast potential.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The story of the season-opening win over South Carolina has to be the improved play of Gene Chizik’s defense. The Tar Heels came alive in Charlotte, holding the Gamecocks to just 17 points, despite three turnovers. They swarmed, they got after quarterback Shane Rattler, and they gave Drake Maye’s offense the support it needed when they left points on the field.

There are plaudits to share all over the defensive side of the ball, but special notice has to be spared for Kaimon Rucker. The Butcher had 8 tackles (one less than team-leader Cedric Gray), and led the team in solo tackles (6), tackles for loss (5.5), and sacks (2, tied with Amari Gainer). Rucker really ought to have three sacks, but Rattler cheated and intentionally grounded the ball instead of taking another Butcher sack lunch.

For those Tar Heel fans tortured by last season’s defense and its inability to get after the quarterback (or even generate pressure), last night’s performance must have been like seeing in color for the first time. UNC’s nine team sacks were the most in a single game in the last 15 seasons.

Incredibly, Carolina’s defense held South Carolina to only three second-half points, despite giving away the opening kick-off to an onside kick recovery and two Drake Maye interceptions. The havoc they wrecked on a woeful Gamecocks O-line could have been punished more severely if the refs were inclined to throw more flags. Rucker posted his mouth-watering numbers despite plenty of this nonsense:

If Rucker can cause this much ruckus from the Jack position, and a depleted secondary can cut down on big plays allowed, Carolina could have a very special season. The Heels were 9-1 at one point last season with a terrible defense. Imagine what they’d be like with a decent to pretty good one.