Talking Points: Big plays make big difference
Posted August 30, 2013
1. Let's get the obvious out of the way first: Spotting South Carolina a 17-point lead in the opening quarter isn't a recipe for success.
North Carolina's defense was as much, if not more, of a concern than their offensive line establishing a defense mechanism for the destroyer of worlds known as Jadeveon Clowney. The Tar Heels had a nasty habit of giving up big plays last season and it took the Gamecock's until the third play of the game to expose those woes when quarterback Connor Shaw hooked up with Shaq Roland on a 65-yard touchdown.
South Carolina racked up over 200 yards on the Tar Heels after 15 minutes of play. That's...not very good.
2. Despite the wobbly start and down 20-7 coming out of halftime, North Carolina had a fleeting moment where it appeared they might just claw their way back into the game.
After finally establishing an offensive rhythm, the Heels drove down to the South Carolina six-yard line. The Gamecocks defense looked gassed and the door was open to pull within six points. North Carolina ran Romar Morris up the middle twice without success. Quarterback Bryn Renner was rushed out of the pocket on third down and threw behind A.J. Blue for an incomplete. The Tar Heels had to settle for a field goal after reeling off 17 plays over seven minutes.
Mike Davis rushed 75 yards for a touchdown on South Carolina's following possession with 7:52 left in the 3rd quarter. It was a devastating punch to the gut and North Carolina wouldn't recover.
The Tar Heels took a smaller punch in the 2nd quarter after T.J. Thorpe fumbled a punt and gave the ball back to the Gamecocks. The result wasn't as crippling as the Davis touchdown, but just another example of a blown opportunity to wrestle back a small amount of control in the game.
3. Clowney entered the season opener with a Chuck Norris-like mythology built up during the offseason. Everybody has seen "the hit" on every possible visual medium, from looping GIFs to endless SportsCenter Top Ten segments. An entire afternoon was spent at the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro asking North Carolina representatives if they were scared of college football's version of Galactus.
The hype was fierce. Unfortunately, that hype was never going to be fulfilled. Do we really expect a drive exploding defensive play out of Clowney every week this season? If that's the case, we'll be left sorely disappointed. Especially when opposing teams compiled every minute of tape in an effort to gameplan against him.
Clowney's stats on Thursday night, which lacked a single sack, won't appease the Heisman honks. Those moments where he looked winded or spent chunks of time on the sideline won't help either. North Carolina's James Hurst did a decent job keeping the human Death Star in check as well.
However, saying Clowney didn't have an impact on North Carolina would be disingenuous.
It was jarring to see North Carolina come out of the gate conservative, with Renner throwing screen passes and averaging just under five yards per completion in the first quarter. With the Tar Heels unable to establish any rhythm, North Carolina only threatened South Carolina's lead once in the game.
4. The NCAA made a big stink about about cracking down on helmet-to-helmet hits, causing mass hysteria during conference media days over what would and would not constitute a legal contact. The last thing college football observers wanted was more judgment calls for the officials to potentially screw up, especially ones that could result in the ejection of a player.
The referees got their first test when North Carolina safety Brandon Ellerbe lowered his head as South Carolina's Victor Hampton fell to the ground during a punt return. While the hit caused much debate on ESPN and social media, there was no flag thrown and no ejection given.
5. The timeout war between Steve Spurrier and Larry Fedora, following an extended lightning delay, was rather precious.