Costly Interceptions Doom Tar Heels Against South Carolina

Marquise Williams will go to sleep with the image of South Carolina middle linebacker Skai Moore in his head.

Moore intercepted Williams two times in the end zone Thursday night–including on North Carolina’s final offensive play–as the Gamecocks took advantage of multiple missed chances by the Tar Heels on their way to a 17-13 victory at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

“We had a lot of chances,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said after the game. “We had a lot of missed opportunities offensively.

“I thought our defense did some good things,” he continued.”The only thing we didn’t do is create a takeaway. We had some opportunities on some balls on the ground and didn’t get to ’em. But we threw three picks, I think, in the red zone, and then turned it over on downs. I mean, that’s four turnovers offensively. You’re not gonna win any games [playing like that].”

For the second time in the past three seasons UNC has gotten off to an 0-1 start by way of a loss to the Gamecocks. South Carolina starts its season off 1-0, giving its head coach, Steve Spurrier, his 24th win in 26 career opening games.

In what can only be described as a shaky first outing, Williams completed 19 of his 31 passes for 232 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. The touchdown, and most of those yards–160 of them to be exact–came in the first half.

Marquise Williams was up-and-down in a game that turned into a defensive struggle. (UNC Athletics)

Marquise Williams was up-and-down in a game that turned into a defensive struggle. (UNC Athletics)

Faced with a third-and-goal situation late in the game, UNC needed to get the ball in the end zone. Instead, Williams was sacked on third down, and then threw an interception to Moore for the second time on the next play–all but sealing it for the Gamecocks.

“I gotta take care of the football when we in the score zone, Williams said. “It’s rookie mistakes that I shouldn’t have been doing tonight. And it came back to haunt us.

“Three times I made the same mistake,” he added. “It’ll haunt me for a minute, but I’ll have to bounce back strong.”

Sophomore running back Elijah Hood gave the Tar Heels a spark of life with multiple big runs in the second half, on his way to 138 yards on just 12 carries. But he did not see the field for the game’s final plays.

“It’s not my call,” Hood replied when asked if he thought he should have been more involved in crunch time. “Would I have liked to have been out there. I mean, sure. Anytime I’m out there, I’m trying to make a play.

“I feel like I trust the coaches. They felt like that personnel was best. So I was totally OK with it.”

Leading the way for South Carolina was senior tailback Shon Carson, whose 48-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter provided the Gamecocks their only lead of the night–and the only one that mattered. For the night, Carson carried the ball just four times, but made the most of them, picking up 75 yards.

Early on, the Tar Heels appeared to be the better team–as the new-look Tar Heel defense impressed in its first game under new coordinator Gene Chizik. After refusing to allow South Carolina to pick up a yard on its first three plays, the momentum was clearly with the boys in baby blue.

Fresh-faced sophomore quarterback Connor Mitch struggled all night against the Tar Heels, going just 9-22 for 122 yards and a touchdown. But, unlike Williams, he did not turn the ball over.

Williams got the offense rolling on its first drive of the game, with the team picking up 58 yards on its way to the Gamecock 6-yard line. But then a pass headed for senior receiver Kendrick Singleton in the back of the end zone was picked off by Moore–foreshadowing for what was to come later on.

Then–after the first end zone interception–the UNC defense held strong again.

Offensive success continued, with Williams leading a lighting fast 91-yard touchdown drive on the team’s second possession. Bug Howard, the 6-foot-5-inch junior receiver, kicked it off with a 40-yard reception on the first play. He then punctuated things by catching a 21-yard bullet from Williams for the score, giving the Tar Heels the early lead.

Elijah Hood (34) provided the lone bright spot for UNC's offense on Thursday, putting up 138 yards on 12 carries. (UNC Athletics)

Elijah Hood (34) provided the lone bright spot for UNC’s offense on Thursday, putting up 138 yards on 12 carries. (UNC Athletics)

Immediately, though, the Gamecocks responded with an 11-play scoring drive. Junior receiver Pharoh Cooper, a preseason All-SEC first team selection, caught a 9-yard touchdown from Mitch on a slant route across the middle to even the score at 7.  The drive also took more than five minutes off the game clock, which helped give their defense some much-needed rest after showing clear signs of fatigue against the Tar Heels’ up-tempo offense.

The rest of the second quarter had the teams trading field goal attempts. UNC junior place-kicker Nick Weiler connected on a pair of attempts (47 yards and 38 yards), a pleasant sight for Tar Heel fans who watched their team fail to connect on any field goals longer than 30 yards in 2014.  South Carolina’s Elliot Fry hit one from 25 yards to tie the game at 10, but missed short from 57 at the end of the half–allowing UNC to go into the locker room ahead 13-10.

From then on, the game unexpectedly slowed into a defensive battle with neither able to break through until Carson’s fourth quarter touchdown.

“We’ve gotta get a lot better,” Fedora said about his team. “It’s just not acceptable for what we have in returning starters on offense. It’s just not acceptable”

Up Next:

A long week awaits the Tar Heels, as they’ll have a couple extra days to recover before hosting North Carolina A&T in their home opener next Saturday.

Game Notes:

  • UNC outgained South Carolina in total yardage 440-394. But the Gamecocks’ picked up 254 of their yards on the ground, allowing them to keep the Tar Heel offense off the field.
  • Time of possession was in the Gamecocks’ favor, as they held the ball for 35:38, compared to 24:22 for the Tar Heels.
  • This is the first time UNC has lost when holding an opponent to 17 points or fewer since a 13-0 defeat at NC State on Nov. 5, 2011.
  • The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 34-19-4.


Tar Heels Eager for Challenge Presented by Spurrier’s Gamecocks

Two years ago the UNC football team opened its season with a disappointing 27-10 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia. On Thursday, the Tar Heels will get a chance at revenge when they collide with legendary Head Coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

If there’s one thing that’s certain about the Tar Heels right now, it’s that they have a tremendous amount of respect for Spurrier and his teams.

UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora told reporters on Monday that Spurrier always has his teams prepared. Fedora’s quarterback, senior Marquise Williams, agreed–and has shown great enthusiasm about receiving his first shot at the college football Hall-of-Famer.

“You can always try to say [something] bad about the ‘Ol Ball Coach, but that’s one guy who knows how to win football games,” Williams said on Monday. “I’m excited just to be able to play my first game against Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks. And so is the rest of this team. It’s a great opportunity for us to go out and showcase our talent. It’s a showdown with the ACC vs. the SEC.”

New UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik (left) ,shown here during his time at Auburn, has a history with South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier (right). (

New UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik (left) ,shown here during his time at Auburn, has a history with South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier (right). (

Conveniently enough, new Tar Heel defensive coordinator Gene Chizik put together a 3-0 record against Spurrier’s Gamecocks during his time as an SEC head coach at Auburn. Having spent the last two years away from the sidelines, Chizik has had plenty of time to check up on his old rival.

“I think Coach Spurrier’s done a great job of staying true to all the things, philosophically and offensively, that he has always done,” Chizik said. “But I think what he’s done a great job of is really, he’s put some new things in there. He’s kinda evolved with the game a little bit with some new stuff. Back when they had [quarterback] Connor Shaw with the zone read, and the things he implemented that they’re still running now.”

This year’s South Carolina team will feature sophomore quarterback Connor Mitch, a local product out of Wakefield High School in Raleigh. Mitch will be making his first start in a career that has seen him throw just 6 passes to date.

Chizik’s defense will be looking to take advantage of that inexperience, says the Tar Heels’ senior middle linebacker, Jeff Schoettmer.

“We’re looking to get after him,” Schoettmer said. “Any time you’ve got a young quarterback you want to make them throw into tight windows and make plays. Make him beat you. We’re gonna get after him with blitz schemes, and things like that, but it really boils down to how we execute.”

The biggest threat the Tar Heels will face is the Gamecocks’ explosive junior wide receiver Pharoah Cooper. Cooper caught 69 passes for 1,136 yards last season in Spurrier’s offense–on his way to first team All-SEC honors.

Jeff Schoettmer (10) and the UNC defense will attack USC quarterback Connor Mitch early and often. (UNC Athletics)

Jeff Schoettmer (10) and the UNC defense will attack USC quarterback Connor Mitch early and often. (UNC Athletics)


“He is obviously one of the best players in that league, for sure,” Chizik said. He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve seen on film. That’s why you can expect him to be in so many different places doing so many different things. Whether it’s the wildcat scenario or whether they’re putting him out there and throwing the ball to him when the game is on the line. Coach Spurrier, you can tell, has a lot of confidence in him no matter what role he plays.”

Offensively, UNC brings back ten starters. They are expected to pose a challenge to not only the Gamecocks, but every defense they see this season. If the defense can show improvement, this year’s Tar Heels can compete with anyone.

But any struggles in the opener won’t have their head coach pressing the panic button just yet.

“It’s pretty important the way we come out on Thursday night, and the way we perform,” Fedora said after practice Monday. “But it doesn’t define our season. It gives us an idea of where we’re at. No matter what happens, we’ve still got a long season ahead of us.”

Broadcast Information:

The game will be televised on ESPN and broadcast live on WCHL. Kickoff is currently set for 6:01 p.m. Thursday.

Team Notes:

  • Sophomore running back Elijah Hood earned the starting nod over junior T.J. Logan in the team’s depth chart released on Monday.
  • Junior Nick Weiler was named the UNC placekicker after a long offseason battle with redshirt freshman Freeman Jones.

Spurrier Ready For North Carolina

COLUMBIA – Steve Spurrier still loves to beat North Carolina. He’ll get another chance when the sixth-ranked Gamecocks will get another chance Thursday night when they open the season against the Tar Heels.

Spurrier got his college football coaching start at Duke in 1987 and won all three meetings with rival North Carolina before moving on to become Florida’s head coach. Spurrier has always been grateful that Duke gave him the chance to coach and said Sunday that it’s still special when he faces the Tar Heels.

Spurrier has won 20 straight openers, including all eight since joining the Gamecocks. If Spurrier continues the streak, count on All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to play a big role.

Spurrier says Clowney has had a strong camp and is ready to go.

Tar Heels Poised For Border Battle

CHAPEL HILL — Less than one week remains before one of the most anticipated college football openers in Tar Heel recent memory. Head Coach Fedora met with the media on Friday to discuss the state of his team as they get set for their match-up at South Carolina.

Coach Fedora says he believes one of the keys to the game will be his defense’s ability to stop the big, explosive plays. And he says he’s seen a marked improvement in that category in the preseason practices.

“I have seen improvement, and we have worked extensively on tackling in the open field. […] If you don’t make that tackle, it becomes a big play,” Fedora says.

On the offensive side of the ball, Coach Fedora says freshman Ryan Switzer’s versatility opens up the playbook.

“Ryan is unique because he’s played in the backfield, and now he’s learned the slot. He’s a guy you can do multiple things with. He can actually run the ball from the backfield or he can be out at a receiver spot running routes,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora identified South Carolina’s Heisman hopeful Jadeveon Clowney as the best defensive player he has ever had to game plan against. And that’s high marks coming from him, as Coach Fedora says he has faced the legendary NFL star Brian Urlacher.

South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier has a couple dual threat quarterbacks at his disposal, and Coach Fedora says that makes the Gamecocks offense tricky.

“I don’t think they’re afraid to play either one of them. Both of them can throw the football, and both of them can run. […] That’s always a concern,” Fedora says.

Tar Heel defensive end Kareem Martin was on hand Friday as well, and he says the greater comfort level with the defensive schemes will lead to improvement from last season.

“This year, we’ve had a whole offseason with the playbook. We’ve had a lot of extra film sessions. There is a lot more confidence going around of what to do,” Martin says.

Martin says he is fired up about the upcoming battle of the Carolinas and says his team is ready to shine and show the nation what North Carolina is made of.

“Being able to start on such a big stage is always great. It gets to show the nation what UNC football is all about. We’ve been working really hard knowing we’re going to be on this big stage. We’re going there not to disappoint,” Martin says.

South Carolina’s Clowney May Sit Out Season Opener

Photo courtesy of Guardian Express

COLUMBIA – South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier may have been trying to send a message to his star defender, Jadeveon Clowney, when telling the media Monday that he could sit out the North Carolina game if he doesn’t return to practice soon.

According to NBC Sports, Clowney has been in and out of practice due to a shoulder injury, and previously a knee injury.

After Monday’s practice, Spurrier told the media, “if (Clowney’s shoulder) doesn’t come around real soon, we may play without him the first game.” He went on to mention that a number of players “act like they are really hurt” and that he’ll “handle those guys.”

With less than three weeks to kickoff, Tar Heel fans will likely be keeping an eye on No. 7 and the amount of time he’s able to practice.

The Light at the end of the Tunnel

It’s finally here ladies and gentlemen…. the last game of the 2012 University of North Carolina football season. Wow, this season has absolutely flown by and, for me; this is when depression sets in. After Saturday, the countdown begins to the opening kickoff of the 2013 season (August 31, 2013) in Columbia, South Carolina. That’s right – 279 days till the flagship school of South Carolina and the Ole’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks take on the flagship school of North Carolina. And if you’re like me, you will be counting down every one of those 279 days through national signing day, spring practice, summer workouts, ACC media day and the pigskin luncheon.

With that being said though, this has been a long and winding road for this group of seniors who have lived through 2 ½ years of an emotional roller coaster of change. Not many college football players can say they lived (and endured) through two head coaches, an academic fraud scandal, NCAA sanctions, scrutiny from peers, University faculty and officials, and constant negativity from local fan bases and major local media outlets in particular the Raleigh News & Observer. Within all of this adversity, a group of young men were truly developing before our very eyes not only on the field, but in the community as well (see last week’s column about Jonathan Cooper and Gentle Giants ). These seniors have become valuable members of the University community and, despite the controversy that has surrounded their tenure here, will be remembered with fondness and distinction in Chapel Hill.

With the new hiring of Coach Fedora this past December and the reality that the 2012 Tar Heels would not be eligible for post season play, our football program was at a crossroads. All players had the right to transfer to a different University without sitting out a year and a special group of Tar Heel seniors led by Kevin Reddick decided to make a stand and finish what they had started. When Coach Fedora laid out the options to his Seniors during a meeting, Reddick was one of the first to address the possibility of leaving. “After we told the seniors, ‘Hey, you guys can leave if you want. You can do whatever you want,’ “Coach Fedora said.” Kevin was the first one to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going anywhere. We’re going to have a great season here next year.’ ” This shows the kind of character that is instilled in these young men not only by this University but also by the role models who have molded these athletes from prospects to lettermen. The parents, guardians, mentors, pop warner coaches, teachers and counselors all deserve credit for helping to make a forgettable situation a positive and something that the entire program can – and will – build on.

The reason why I bring this up is because Saturday will be the last time that the majority of these seniors will ever play the game of football and ever be a part of a family atmosphere and brotherhood like the one at UNC. I was fortunate enough to get to experience two Senior days (due to a medical hardship) so I know exactly what these guys are going through this week. The week will fly by and the players will experience a sense of loss as they experience everyday moments for the last time – the last Monday practice, the last game plan meeting, the last Tuesday lift session, the last time out with the guys for the weekly dinners. And as they walk through the tunnel and hear the final roar of the crowd and run through the smoke, they will remember back to the day four or five years ago when they first walked through the tunnel with the magic of college football and Kenan stadium awaiting, and they’ll feel as if it passed in the blink of an eye.

As hard as it is for the players to know that the end is near, sometimes the parents or guardians take it that much harder. They have supported and fostered the growth of this player from the days when he couldn’t tie his own cleats to now seeing him play for the last time. Maybe this player achieved his goals and lived up to his potential and maybe he didn’t. Either way, the end is here and it’s a sobering time for all involved. What I hope comes out of this last Saturday and what I think we’ll see is two things:

  • 1) A great effort by this football team and a program that is prepared to send these seniors off with a win while looking forward to building the foundation for next year and years to come.
  • 2) A packed stadium that allows everyone in the community the opportunity to spend a Saturday in one of the most beautiful stadiums in college football. Let’s all soak it in while we can because 279 days is a far ways off.

Please make sure to tune in one hour after the final whistle to 97.9FM to listen to more post game coverage with Paul Connell and myself on “ON THE HEELS.”

Smart. Fast. Physical. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Re-Emphasizing Football

Maybe his timing shocked people and maybe he did not do it with the polish of a senior statesman (inadvertently committing a minor NCAA violation, himself), but it astounds me how Holden Thorp has become the villain in the firing of Butch Davis, who as the facts continue to seep out was, at best, an arrogant, see-no-evil football coach and, at worst, presided over a crooked program.
Those who support “Fire Holden Thorp” websites and actually send in money to erect billboards and hire planes to fly over Kenan Stadium are somehow blind to the fact that UNC is facing major NCAA sanctions after its October 28 hearing that, perhaps, Thorp lessened with his last-minute move. Indications are that Davis did not pay much more than lip service to “take full and complete responsibility” to see this never happens again.
And I contend now and throughout the coming season that the 2011 Tar Heels under interim coach Everett Withers will be better off without the Davis distraction hovering over the team, especially if more bad news keeps emerging. Head coaches are overrated on game-day preparation and sideline significance, anyway. The coordinators prepare the game plan and call the plays, the position coaches get the kids ready, and on Saturday the head coach mostly listens through his head set and occasionally flails at the officials. His weekend job is more shaking hands, kissing up to alumni and facing the media, which this fall would have been a constant side show.
Perhaps the most outrageous reaction was the emotional outburst from former player, Charlotte gadfly and Tar Heel Sports Network broadcaster Deems May, who somehow equated the coach’s ouster to a de-emphasis of football at Carolina. Of course, May blew whatever objectivity he appeared to have by referring to Davis as “my good friend” in his open letter to Inside May used the term “de-emphasizing football” no less than six times and basically called for the resignation of Thorp and the entire Board of Trustees.
Some people have been fired for far less than that.
Rather than de-emphasizing football, which is a ridiculous notion given the millions UNC has pumped into the program in recent years, Thorp is emphasizing competing and winning within the rules and by staying out of the gray area, such as hiring reputed rogue coaches like John Blake. Thorp grew up on Tar Heel sports and wants to win games and championships as much as anyone. He and a silent majority of alumni just want to win them the right way.
By making the move two weeks ago, along with accepting Dick Baddour’s offer to step aside, Thorp has actually put Carolina on the fast track to recovery. NCAA sanctions are still coming, but Carolina certainly did not hurt itself by removing the CEO of the complicit program. Perhaps bowl bans and scholarship reductions will be mitigated by the move.
But, most importantly, Thorp now has a clear path to begin restoring the reputation of both UNC Football and UNC academics. He must make a plan and execute it for Carolina to have a bright future on the field and, perhaps, get out of this with minimum damage. I have to believe that all those carping critics will embrace the next move if it is the correct one.
Finding a strong, experienced athletic director with a track record for good hires, and proper management of those hires, is the first step. Here is a scenario that is making the rounds without any validation or verification to this point.
Eric Hyman is the 60-year-old athletic director at South Carolina. He was an All-ACC lineman here for Bill Dooley in the early 1970s, made the Dean’s List, and has since built a strong and successful resume in athletic administration. During his six years in Columbia, most Gamecock sports programs have flourished, their baseball club has won back-to-back College World Series behind former N.C. State coach Ray Tanner, their men’s basketball is improving under young coach Darrin Horn and Steve Spurrier’s football team is favored to win the SEC East this fall.
Despite a recent raise that puts Hyman’s salary just under $500,000, he has been non-committal about his future at South Carolina. That’s because one of the worst kept secrets in college athletics is that Hyman would love to end his career at his alma mater. His wife is from North Carolina and also a UNC grad. And, supposedly, Hyman could come right away.
The most interesting extrapolation of such a scenario is that, after the 2011 season, Hyman would hire TCU’s Gary Patterson, who has become one of the most successful coaches in the country with a .778 winning percentage (98-28). His 2010 team went 13-0, defeated Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finished ranked No. 2 in the country; the previous year, TCU played in the Fiesta Bowl. Patterson has coached TCU to nine bowl games in his 10 seasons.
Not only has TCU been to BCS bowls twice from a non-BCS conference (Mountain West), the Horned Frogs were best among the 2010 preseason Top 25 on the Sports Illustrated list for having no players on their team with criminal records (UNC was tied for 15th with five players).
Hyman was the athletic director at TCU and hired Patterson, now 51, as head football coach in 2000. They remain friends, and in a misguided attempt to play for an automatic BCS berth, TCU will join the Big East Conference next year.

The Horned Frogs from Forth Worth in the Big East? Sounds like a perfect time for Patterson to go elsewhere. 

Now, the Hyman-Patterson scenario may not unfold. But it is the kind of bold move that UNC needs to follow Thorp’s firing of Davis. By doing so, even Deems May would have to say that Carolina was re-emphasizing football the right way.

Would you agree?

Eric Hyman              Gary Patterson