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UNC vs. South Carolina: Winners, Losers, & Honorable Mentions

The Tar Heels may actually have a defense.

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

I still don’t fully believe what I saw on Saturday night.

We’ve seen this movie so many times of a Carolina team with a ton of potential just laying an absolute egg in the first game of the season. Pregame, I had bargained “If Carolina loses, at least let Drake Maye live up to the offseason hype.” There was no way the defense would be good and you just hope they won in a shootout.

Except they were good. Really good. For once, we can talk about the fact that Drake he had a B- game and wasn’t the sole reason UNC won. For that, he won’t be in the first section today, and it’s refreshing.

With that, let’s look at our winners, losers, and honorable mentions for UNC’s 31-17 win over South Carolina.


UNC Defensive Front-17 sacks in 14 games all of last season. Saturday Night the defense hit Spencer Rattler nine times. This group just completely obliterated the South Carolina line, forcing Rattler to have to throw under pressure all night long. The few times the Gamecocks tried to run the ball they either went nowhere or lost yardage. Their net total was -2 yards once all the loses were factored in, and even if you take out the losses they only gained 77 yards on the ground.

You want more stats? Six Tar Heels split the nine sacks between them, and nine Tar Heels recorded a tackle for loss. Cedric Gray led the team with tackles as usual, but unlike last year, the distribution was a lot more even. Following him, Rucker and Alijiah Huzzie had eight, then Don Chapman and Power Echols had six. It was a complete effort that allowed Maye to make his mistakes in the second half. Rucker was such a force he was named the Walter Camp National Player of the Week for defense. It was truly a sight to behold.

Recievers/Tight Ends-Carolina was without both Tez Walker and Nate McCollum, and they needed people to step up. They did. John Copenhaver made some spectacular catches by fighting for the ball, and Kobe Paysour just juked his defender out of his shoes for a touchdown catch. In general Drake Maye always had someone open to throw to. Even Gavin Blackwell saved himself from being on the “losers” side, as his two drops were redeemed with a great goal line catch which Carolina punched in on the next play. A total of nine players caught a pass from Maye, creating a nightmare for future defenses to figure out. Because if this is what they look like without Walker and McCollum...

Gene Chizik/Chip Lindsey-The head of each side of the ball deserves kudos. Both clearly came into the game with a plan of attack, and it was executed right down to the letter. For the defense, Mack Brown has been trying to say all offseason in year two under Chizik they would be better. This was more than just being better. How many times has Carolina gone into this sort of game and looked like they didn’t have any game plan, or the wrong one? This group knew South Carolina couldn’t run, schemed for it, and clearly studied Rattler’s protection on tape to find a way to hurry him up. It was exactly what you want to see and it gives you hope for the rest of the year.

Lindsey also passed a big test in his first game as offensive coordinator. From the start, it was clear that he had game planned Maye to both take what the Gamecocks would give and to establish the run. Maye rarely felt like he needed to scramble, as mentioned there always seemed to be someone open to just methodically move the ball down the field. Meanwhile the running game produced 168 yards, two touchdowns, and Maye was only the third-highest rusher for the Tar Heels. The red zone offense was significantly improved, going 4-4 with three touchdowns. South Carolina’s defense is no joke, and the plan to attack it was spot-on.


UNC secondary-This is a little unfair because a rebuilt unit was also missing Lejond Cavazos and then it was announced before the game that DeAndre Boykins will be out for the season. It caused the group to be shuffled again, and it showed with the fact that despite the constant pressure, Rattler was able to connect for 353 yard on 30-39 passing, and also wasn’t picked off once. Tayon Holloway seemed to be the guy that Rattler really wanted to pick on, but overall it’s really disappointing that this group couldn't get an interception from a guy under so much duress. They were clearly the weaker part of the defense.

That said, they also held their ground in the red zone, and while they gave up some big plays, none of the touchdowns were from passes. South Carolina managed only three points in the second half despite recovering an onside kick and two interceptions. To do that the secondary at least had to be better than they were last year. Here’s hoping they can use this to build up for the rest of the season, because unlike last season there is some good there to work with.

South Carolina front lines-As great as the Carolina defense was, let’s not overlook the fact that the South Carolina offensive line was just atrocious. Go back and look at the sacks of Rattler and the offensive line just looks lost. Multiple times UNC’s defensive front faced no resistance as they were able to blow right by their line to get to Rattler, who is just not a runner. South Carolina also just couldn’t get any traction on the ground at all. As much as that’s a credit to the UNC defense, it’s also an indictment against the South Carolina offensive line. It’s why UNC fans would be right to at least temper their excitement over the performance for when they face a team that can actually run it, or the quarterback has some scrambling ability. You know, basically any offensive line that provides more resistance than wet toilet paper.

As for the South Carolina defensive front, we would talk about the fact they didn’t record a sack or that they gave up 168 yards on the ground to a team that had trouble running it last year. But instead, I think they deserve to be here for this alone.

The NCAA-We learned something new on the Tez Walker situation thanks to play-by-play man, Sean McDonough. Here’s the broadcast from Saturday, and the YouTube version will be up Tuesday. They start talking about the situation in depth at the 1:44:00 mark. McDonough mentions the NCAA told them the new transfer rule decision had been made “Well before January, but it wasn’t announced until then.” McDonough sarcastically asks “How is he supposed to know?” It’s the start of a discussion by him and Greg McElroy excoriating the NCAA, ridiculing the process, calling on Charlie Baker to fix this issue, and hoping the right thing is done this Thursday. There were also the constant shots of Tez on the sideline, Eric Church wearing his jersey, and Drake Maye wearing it in his post-game press conference, reversed just to make sure everyone knew what he was saying. The NCAA continues to look idiotic for their handling of this issue and they took a beating on the national stage. Here’s hoping by this time next week it’s behind us and we’re actually talking about Tez on the field.

Honorable Mentions

Drake Maye would have been in the first section had he finished the game the same way he was playing after his ridiculous touchdown to Copenhaver. However, a little bit of the “I have to do everything” from last season showed up and he stumbled to the finish with two picks and the offense generally stalling. Up until that point, though, he lived up to the hype and still finished 24-32 for 269 yards, with the three touchdowns. He made several throws that were NFL quality, including a sidearm throw through a defender right into Copenhaver’s hands. The train will keep going based on this, but it’s nice to see he can have an OK game and the Tar Heels still dominate...Give it up for British Brooks who shined with his 15/103, 6.9 yards/carry nice effort. He earned the start, and more than that, after missing all of last season with injury he showed just how much he was missed...Omarion Hampton didn’t have a great yards per rush, but he scored twice on the ground which is substantial considering his size and that they were goal line situations. It was him you’re seeing beat that 13 person South Carolina defense. It shows an immense amount of trust and is a good sign going forward.