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September 1, 2013
These three plays didn't get tons of attention in the aftermath of No. 6 South Carolina's 27-10 win over North Carolina, but their impact was significant.
Second Quarter, UNC with the ball trailing 0-17 and facing a third-and-20 from its own 35
Jadeveon Clowney has suffered mighty slings and arrows following his virus-weakened, sub-par three-tackle performance, but very little has been said about the player who was supposed to benefit the most from all the blocking attention given USC's superstar: Sutton.
Sutton also was out of the game a good bit, allowing backup sophomore Mason Harris to play a fair amount. In fact, Harris (0.5) had more sacks than Clowney or Sutton combined on Thursday night. I challenge ANYONE to say they predicted that before the game.
Sutton's four tackles - one more than Clowney - two for a loss, was less than what was hoped for by those expecting a big game from him, especially given that unlike Clowney, who was facing a potential first-round NFL draft prospect, Sutton, a senior, was matched up against redshirt freshman John Heck.
Trailing 17-0 and facing third-and-20 from the UNC 35, Bryn Renner completed a 3-yard pass to Sean Tapley that would have set up a fourth-and-17 and punting situation. Sutton's penalty, however, gave the Tar Heels a first-and-10 from the USC 47.
Had the Gamecocks gotten the ball back there, a score could have turned the game into a rout. As it was, North Carolina got some much-needed momentum and its first (and only, as it turned out) touchdown of the night. What's more, it flipped the field, and the only drive South Carolina did not score points on in the first half was the one following North Carolina's touchdown.
First quarter, USC leading 7-0 and facing fourth-and-2 from the North Carolina 30
On the Gamecocks' second drive of the game, the offense was once again moving the ball. Starting at its own 20, USC had moved into UNC territory, and with a first-and-10 from the North Carolina 38, three straight rushes by Mike Davis left the Gamecocks facing a fourth-and-2 from the 30.
Not liking the possibility of kicker Elliott Fry's first career field goal attempt to be from 47 yards out, Steve Spurrier called a timeout to think about it.
In came Brandon Wilds for the first time this season, and boy, did the Blythewood High School product deliver. He flew to the line of scrimmage, appeared stopped short, then carried about a pack of about eight Tar Heel defenders forward for not just one yard, not just the needed two yards, but eight yards downfield to set up a first-and-10 from the North Carolina 20.
The drive stalled when Connor Shaw threw incomplete twice and rushed for no gain, but Fry's 39-yard field goal was good and was a confidence booster for the team and the little freshman from Frisco, Texas.
First quarter, USC leading 10-0 with first-and-10 at the North Carolina 29
Let's talk about this play a little bit.
There were a lot of nice firsts in the North Carolina game. First win (of course), a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half for USC, and first touchdown of the year on the first throw of the year for both Connor Shaw (to Shaq Roland). Remarkably, Shaw's backup, Dylan Thompson, also threw for his first touchdown of the year on his first pass attempt (has that EVER happened in USC history?) with his 29-yard touchdown toss to sophomore Kane Whitehurst, which was the first catch and touchdown of Whitehurst's career.
Also remarkably, no one thought to ask Spurrier about that play after the game (probably because the game had been delayed so long by that point that everyone was eager to get home), and since neither Thompson nor Whitehurst spoke to the media afterward, it just didn't come up.
Which is a shame. Second drive of the game, Shaw and Wilds lead the team on a six-play, 34-yard drive to the Tar Heel 29, and what's this? Shaw's going out of the game? Thompson's coming in? I can bet you that just as all eyes were on this turn of events, almost no one - including the North Carolina coaches, also noticed or paid much attention to Whitehurst slipping on the field at the same time.
And yet there he went, flying down the field like a missile, and there was Thompson, enjoying superb protection and lofting a nifty strike to the former Arkansas Razorback and cousin of former Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. The play was a feel-good pick-me-up that showed Spurrier was ready to have some fun himself keeping North Carolina off balance.
The touchdown gave the Gamecocks the most points scored in a first quarter since 1996, put momentum firmly in South Carolina's corner and opened a cushion the Tar Heels couldn't close.
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