Many football experts like to say that you build a football team from the inside out, building great offensive and defensive lines that can dominate and take over any game. If that’s the true than the South Carolina Gamecocks could be in store for a special season this year. However, all those lofty goals and expectations can come crashing down before they even get started with a season opening loss to the Tar Heels which would be their first season opening loss since 1999. Right now I’m sure the thought on many loyal Heels fans mind is, how will the Carolina attack the Gamecocks on offense and how will they try and stop the Gamecocks when they have ball?
Over the last few seasons, South Carolina has become a more balanced offense under head coach Steve Spurrier who has traditionally been a pass first coach. Sophomore Mike Davis will start at running back while Brandon Wilds will also see action. Davis is a powerful and shifty runner that could give UNC problems both running between tackles and in open space, he will likely get the ball early and often especially if they are without Bruce Ellington. Ellington is their top playmaker, a two sport star, but he has missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury and his status for the game remains unclear. If he is unable to go that will put pressure on several talented but unproven receivers to step up in his absence, former high school All-American Shaq Roland and speedster Damiere Byrd will need to step up however, the Heels cornerbacks appear capable of keeping both of those players in check.
The Gamecocks starting quarterback is Connor Shaw but after missing spring practice due to foot surgery, Dylan Thompson who fits the profile of a classic Spurrier gunslinger could see playing time against the Heels. If Thompson does play the Heels could pressure him and knock him off spot in the pocket to disrupt his timing but that plan would not work against Shaw. Shaw is an excellent passer outside the pocket and is always a threat to run, it is important that the Heels keep Shaw from getting outside the pocket where he is perhaps his most dangerous and accurate. Shaw will be working behind an offensive line that returns 4 starters including both tackles so look for Heels to bring serious pressure up the middle on freshman center Cody Waldrop and try to overwhelm the youngster. The freshman will be playing in his first college game.
South Carolina’s high preseason ranking and expectations are mainly due to a defense that could be one of the nation’s best. Of course they are lead by the best player in America Jadeveon Clowney, who will be looking to start his Heisman campaign in grand fashion on the national stage. He anchors a defensive line that will be the best the Heels face all season, in addition to Clowney there is tackle Kelcy Quarles a preseason All-American and Chaz Sutton who will benefit from all the attention Clowney receives. The best way for the Heels to combat this outstanding unit is to do what they do best and run the no hurdle offense. Clowney admitted during the off season to being out of shape during the last season, what better way to test the superstar’s conditioning along with the rest of the line then going no hurdle right from the opening snap. Another area the Heels offense will have to deal with is a talented secondary that returns 3 starters along with sophomore standout T.J. Gurley that only allowed over 300 passing yards twice last season while giving up fewer 200 yards per game through the air. The match up between Victor Hampton and UNC star Quinshad Davis on the outside will be one to watch.
The area the Tar Heels can exploit is the Gamecocks linebackers where they will be 3 mostly inexperienced starters. While all three players did play last season it was mostly on special teams or late in games that had already been decided. Look for the Heels to use drag routes a across the middle and short passes to try and confuse the linebackers and get them out of position. If the Heels are able to find success with their up tempo offense it could go a long way towards helping Coach Fedora’s team pull of the opening night upset.