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August 31, 2013
South Carolina scored quickly on a long touchdown pass and cruised to a 27-10 victory over North Carolina Thursday night at Williams-Brice Stadium. Here are five things we learned:
1. Football Is A Team Game: Jadeveon Clowney was the subject of 99 percent of the national media attention given to the Gamecocks during the offseason. Clowney had far from his best game on Thursday, finishing with three tackles and three quarterback hurries, and looked sluggish at times. Bear in mind, though, he was always going to find it virtually impossible living up to the unattainable standards set for him by the media and fans. "The Hit" and its aftermath changed everything for Clowney, and catapulted him into celebrity status next to Johnny Manziel.
However, rather than sulk about their mega-star teammate having an average game, other players stepped up, some of whom were seeing their first meaningful game action as Gamecocks - Sharrod Golightly, Skai Moore, Marcquis Roberts, Kelsey Griffin and T.J. Holloman. That's why the USC defense was able to limit UNC to 293 total yards (121 in the first half), 99 yards on the ground and 10 points. As we saw yet again, football is a team game. When one guy struggles, another has to step up.
2. Clowney Must Keep His Head On A Swivel: The chop block on Clowney by backup UNC offensive lineman Kiaro Holts (now we know why he's a backup) might be perhaps the dumbest and most dangerous play I've seen in a long time. Remember, there was still about six minutes to go in the contest and the Tar Heels still had a chance to rally. But Holts' decision to dive into the back of Clowney's knees for no apparent reason ended UNC's hopes. Quarterback Bryn Renner was sacked for a 22-yard loss on the next play and when the Tar Heels got the ball back, just 3:32 remained.
The dangerous play shows that Clowney is going to be a target of opposing overzealous offensive linemen all season. He is going to have to be attentive and keep his head on a swivel at all times. Holts could have caused serious injury to Clowney, possibly ending his season.
3. USC Has A Three-Headed Monster Running The Ball: Mike Davis (115 yards) and Brandon Wilds (64 yards) each carried the ball 12 times, and individually displayed in memorable moments why they're integral components of the rotation at running back. First, Wilds got the call on a fourth-and-2 gamble at the UNC 30 midway through the first quarter and looked to be stopped at the line of scrimmage. But he kept his feet moving, refused to go to the ground and powered forward for eight yards and a first down. The play produced a field goal by Elliott Fry and a 10-0 lead for the Gamecocks with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.
Davis, of course, came up with his big play when he raced through the right side - and sprung free by a fundamentally perfect block by pulling guard A.J. Cann - raced 75 yards for a touchdown on USC's first snap of the second half. Two different plays, two positive outcomes for USC. The best part? Davis and Wilds had a combined 24 carries and ZERO negative yards. Who is the third ball carrier? Connor Shaw. The quarterback had 12 carries as well for 43 yards, almost half coming on a 21-yard scamper. Shaw is dangerous with his feet, so opposing defensive coordinators must game plan for him. Between Davis, Wilds and Shaw, USC has three reliable ball carriers at the moment.
4. Victor Hampton Is One Tough Dude: Victor Hampton fielded three punts and had 22 returns yards. They might be the toughest 22 yards we've seen in a while. Hampton was hammered at least twice by UNC tacklers and staggered off the field with trainers at his side, which I'm sure had to make Lorenzo Ward cringe on the sidelines. With little experienced depth at cornerback, Hampton's presence is vital at that position. As Ward cautioned after the game, Hampton can't try to be hero because he won't last the season.
He exited the game briefly with a neck sprain, but later returned to his cornerback spot. Ward is right, though. Hampton is a very good football player and a viable NFL prospect, possibly in 2014. He must learn to fair catch the football in certain situations, and recognize when it's prudent to do so. On one occasion, he caught a punt running forward directly in a crowd. Too dangerous. But Victor is a great player partly because of his aggressive style.
5. When Steve Spurrier Said Connor Shaw Could Go The Distance, He Meant It: So much for the "quarterback controversy" the media sought to build up in the offseason between Shaw and Dylan Thompson. Shaw was on the field for virtually every offensive play in Thursday night's game. Thompson came on to throw the 29-yard TD pass to Kane Whitehurst late in the first quarter. Spurrier contended on numerous occasions before and during preseason camp that Shaw had earned the right to be the starter based on his record (now 18-3) and performance (career completion percentage of 66.3), and that Thompson would come in when the situation was right.
Importantly, no guarantees. Spurrier has never done that and never will. His words to Shaw were the same ones he has uttered to quarterback over three decades - the game is yours and you are set to go the distance unless injury or some other circumstance intervenes. Spurrier doesn't want his starting quarterback looking over his shoulder. Shaw didn't have his greatest game, 11-for-20 passing for 149 yards is pedestrian, but USC led, 17-0, after the first quarter and coasted home.
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