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August 30, 2013
North Carolina left tackle James Hurst had one goal coming into Thursday night's game against No. 6 South Carolina: Don't let Jadeveon Clowney lay a hand on quarterback Bryn Renner. He succeeded, battling it out with the once-in-a-generation talent in the swampy Columbia heat and keeping No. 7's paws off of his QB - at least for the times Clowney lined up against him.
"That was my goal. I didn't want him to touch the quarterback," said Hurst after the game. "But he did have his plays on me. There were a couple plays where he definitely beat me."
Hurst said he felt he did a "pretty good job" against the likely No. 1 overall NFL Draft selection, and that the 93-degree heat took its toll on both of them.
"We were both tired," Hurst said. "There's no lying about that. It was tough, and that delay made things a lot tougher for both of us."
Clowney finished with three tackles and no sacks, a stat line Hurst said is respectable considering North Carolina's style of offense.
"I think it's pretty good. I think against what we do as an offense, it's tough to get stats as a d-lineman," said Hurst. "We get the ball all over the place really quick. For this type of offense, I think that's a pretty good (stat) line for [Clowney]."
Hurst was happy with his teammates' efforts, but said they crippled themselves by failing to execute in the red zone or convert critical third downs.
"We couldn't get into a rhythm," Hurst said. "For us, we've got to get that first first down and really push the tempo. That's the whole point; we want to wear them out. We didn't execute. We missed assignments, and that hurt us on critical downs."
Hurst's quarterback, Renner, echoed the left tackle's conclusions. While Renner said there were some positive takeaways for his team - they protected the ball, made good decisions and got into the red zone - there's plenty left to work on.
"I think I need to get better," Renner said. "There's points where I made plays, and there was points where I needed to get rid of the football and take care of the football. We didn't have any turnovers tonight but we definitely didn't convert enough on third downs. There's a lot of things that we can improve on as far as taking the next step."
One of those things is converting red zone chances. Twice the Tar Heels buried deep into South Carolina territory, but produced just three total points between the two drives.
"If we score there, it's a different ball game," Renner said. "We looked really good at some points and had great drives, and we just couldn't finish them. Consistency was not there tonight, and you can't make many mistakes against the No. 6 team."
Still in one piece after a bout with one of the most fearsome defensive lines in the country, Renner was overjoyed with the way his offensive line played in front of him. The quarterback said he knew Hurst was going to have a great outing, even against Clowney.
"[Hurst] has prepared all of his life for this game," Renner said. "I think Jon Heck did a fine job as well. I think our whole line did a great job. We had plays out there that could have been made, and we didn't make enough of them tonight, and they're the No. 6 team in the country. They played like it, and we have a lot to improve on."
Former Gaffney High School standout Quinshad Davis said after the game he relished the chance to play in his home state again.
"It felt great coming home and playing in front of my family and the people back home, and getting to play against the guys that I played against in high school," Davis said. "It felt real good coming home to play."
Davis, who led all Tar Heel receivers with four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown, said his play was "okay," but that he and the rest of his team could have done much better. He added that knowing they hadn't played their best on the national stage felt worse than losing.
"It was the national stage and we didn't show up like we wanted to," Davis said. "But it's the first game. We'll go back, correct the mistakes and get it together."
North Carolina running back Romar Morris agreed, but gave credit to the Gamecocks for coming out ready to play.
"Early I think [the hype] affected some of the guys but overall we just didn't play as good as we should have played," said Morris. "We didn't come out there with the effort we should have had. We were well prepared and the coaches prepared us well. They were prepared too. [South Carolina] just had a little more effort than we did."
Preseason All-ACC defensive end Kareem Martin praised South Carolina's running backs and said it was incredibly difficult trying to put pressure on South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw.
"He was a very mobile quarterback," said Martin. "The first half we were chasing him all over the field. We finally got a sack in the second half. With him being so mobile, it's really tough."
Martin said North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora was happy with the way the Tar Heels fought after the weather delay.
"We could have easily just laid down," Martin said. "We have too much pride for all that. We've been through a lot since I've been here and I couldn't imagine it going any other way - going out there and quitting."
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