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.
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.
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”
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.
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/