On South Carolina’s third play from scrimmage, UNC set up in Cover-4 zone, giving the corners deep coverage responsibility while allowing the safeties to play up to be active in run support. UNC safeties Tre Boston and Dominique Green bit on play-action as Connor Shaw found Shaq Roland isolated against cornerback Tim Scott on a post route.
With the safeties up, Scott had no help deep after Roland beat him inside. The result was a 65-yard touchdown strike.
“In the type of defense we were in, I have to be the protector of the post,” Scott said following the game. “The way I set my leverage, I just set it the wrong way.”
On the Gamecocks’ next possession, Norkeithus Otis lost contain on a read-option, allowing Shaw to scamper 21 yards down the left sideline. UNC then forced a 3rd-and-10 at its own 22-yard line, but busted zone coverage left Roland wide open in the end zone. He dropped Shaw’s pass, however, giving UNC’s secondary a reprieve and prompting a 39-yard field goal by Elliott Fry to push South Carolina’s lead to 10-0.
Backup quarterback Dylan Thompson capitalized on yet another Tar Heel missed assignment on the Gamecocks’ third possession of the game as Kane Whitehurst slipped uncovered across the middle for an open 29-yard touchdown pass.
“They weren’t really MA’s, they were just miscommunications throughout the play with what the receivers’ routes were and what are techniques were,” Scott said.
North Carolina trailed 17-0 with 44 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Up to that point, South Carolina had run 22 plays for 203 yards, while UNC netted 27 yards on just nine plays.
Despite a T.J. Thorpe fumbled punt near midfield midway through the second quarter, UNC appeared to regain its footing with steady play on both sides of the ball. The Tar Heels pulled within 20-10 with 7:51 remaining in the third. The Gamecocks, however, effectively put the game away on their next offensive possession.
Running back Mike Davis took an inside handoff and broke outside right. The combination of a missed tackle by cornerback Jabari Price and a bad angle by the back safety Tre Boston allowed Davis to race down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.
“We worked a lot on eliminating big plays and limiting big plays,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “You can’t give up two big plays like that. You can’t do that; you can’t drop a punt at the 50-yard line. You can’t do a lot of things that we did.”
South Carolina took advantage of three defensive miscues to score 21 points. Roland’s dropped pass in the end zone prevented a 4-for-4 touchdown success rate on busted plays.
While UNC was effective for the majority of South Carolina’s 59 plays – the Gamecocks totaled 237 yards outside of the trio of daggers – the presence on the busted coverages raises concerns about the purported offseason improvements and if the Tar Heel secondary is capable of making amends this fall.