UNC offensive coordinator Blake Anderson will tell you that offense is about execution while defense is more about reacting. While South Carolina’s defense was effective in limiting UNC’s execution during its 27-10 win on Thursday night, the Tar Heels offered plenty of help.
To be fair, it would have been impossible for Clowney to live up to his preseason hype heading into the season opener. Even so, Hurst won far more battles against the reigning SEC Player of the Year than he lost and cemented his status as one of the top left tackles in the country.
Clowney finished with three tackles but did not register a sack, which was Hurst’s personal goal entering the game.
“I didn’t want him to touch the quarterback,” Hurst said following the game. “He did have his plays on me. There were a couple plays I remember where he definitely beat me. But I didn’t want him on our quarterback and I’m happy about that.”
UNC’s offensive line held its own against South Carolina’s vaunted front four; well enough, at least, to give the Tar Heels options. Execution flubs, ranging from penalties to missed blocks to errant throws, prevented UNC from building enough momentum to overcome its 17-0 first-quarter deficit.
“I don’t want to take credit away from what they accomplished,” Fedora told reporters during his postgame press conference. “They won the football game and did a great job. But we’ve got to execute. If we execute like that, it’s not going to matter for us. We won’t have a chance.
“We’ve got to make better decisions with the ball, we’ve got to block better, we’ve got to run harder, all of those different things. You’ve got to make plays and we didn’t make those tonight.”
The Gamecocks game planned to take away the perimeter screen and did so early, blowing up UNC’s first play of the game and tackling Sean Tapley for a two-yard loss. That result occurred several times, although UNC was still effective at times in that part of its scheme.
One third-quarter screen pass highlighted the challenge that South Carolina’s talented defense presented. The Tar Heels had a 2-on-1 advantage on the right perimeter, making Bryn Renner’s decision an easy one – throw to Mark McNeill and allow tight end Jack Tabb to block the cornerback for a quality gain. The corner fought through the block, however, tackling McNeill for a two-yard loss to bring up a 3rd-and-12.
“They didn’t really press on the screens, but they were getting back there pretty quick,” Quinshad Davis said.
With the defense struggling early, the offense needed to move the ball and score points. After faltering in the first quarter to the tune of 35 total yards, Renner orchestrated a 16-play, 70-yard scoring drive culminating with a four-yard touchdown pass to Davis.
North Carolina’s inability to churn out significant yardage on first and second downs placed heavy pressure on Renner on third down. UNC faced 3rd-and-7 or longer 10 times. Making matters worse was that the Tar Heels had 3rd-and-2 or short five times and only converted once.
The most glaring example came in the third quarter with the Tar Heels trailing 20-7. With UNC two yards away from a one-possession game, Romar Morris was stopped for no gain on 2nd-and-goal and Renner was chased out of the pocket and threw incomplete into the end zone, forcing a field goal. South Carolina extended its lead to 27-10 on its next offensive play with Mike Davis’s 75-yard touchdown run.
The game ended appropriately enough as UNC earned a 1st-and-goal at the two on a pass interference call in the final minutes before turning the ball on downs. The Tar Heels took seven snaps from South Carolina’s two-yard line and came away with three points.
Missed assignments plagued the Tar Heels as they worked their way to the end zone.
“It’s really disappointing because some of those missed assignments came down in the red zone where you really can’t have happen,” Hurst said. “We have to get better at that.”
Other issues were also present. UNC’s up-tempo offense is designed to prevent its opponents from substituting, but while the Gamecocks were caught with too many men on the field once, they were able to sub at various times throughout the game.
The key to improving execution, according to Renner, is consistency.
“We looked really good at some points and had great drives and just couldn’t finish them,” Renner said. “But definitely the consistency tonight was not there. You can’t make many mistakes against the No. 6 team.”
The only other time a Fedora-coached team scored less than 10 points was when Southern Miss lost to Boise St., 24-7, on Oct. 11, 2008.