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.”
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.
“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.”
The game will be televised on ESPN and broadcast live on WCHL. Kickoff is currently set for 6:01 p.m. Thursday.
COLUMBIA – Fans of sixth-ranked South Carolina and border rival North Carolina who don’t have a ticket for this week’s season-opening showdown will have to find their favorite gathering place to see the game.
Officials at South Carolina announced Monday that Thursday night’s contest at Williams-Brice Stadium against the Tar Heels is sold out.
Tickets are already gone for home contests with Florida on Nov. 16 and Clemson on Nov. 30.
The Gamecocks are coming off an 11-2 record in 2012, the second straight year with 11 victories. North Carolina finished last season 8-4 in the debut of head coach Larry Fedora.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tickets-gone-for-north-carolina-south-carolina/