USC/UNC: Five Game Changers

Thursday night marked the start of the new football season, as North Carolina traveled to Williams-Brice Stadium to face South Carolina.
UNC had to play a perfect game to come in and get an upset over the Gamecocks, and they showed why they're one of the top teams in the country with a fast early start, throwing 17 points on the Tar Heels before they knew what hit them.
Take a look at our five game changers---the events which eventually allowed South Carolina to send the Tar Heels back home with a loss.
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Gamecocks didn't waste any time taking a lead on the Tar Heels. South Carolina's Connor Shaw hit wide receiver Shaq Roland for a 65 yard bomb, putting the Gamecocks up 7-0 within two minutes of the opening kickoff.
South Carolina added a 39 yard field goal and a 17 yard touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson late in the first quarter, giving the Gamecocks an early 17-0 lead going into the second quarter and putting the game almost out of reach early.
The Gamecocks racked up 203 total yards in the first quarter (121 passing, 82 rushing), while the Tar Heels were only able to gain 27 total yards throughout.
After the Tar Heels had eventually settled down and were in rhythm on offense, cutting the South Carolina lead to 17-7 in the second quarter, the defense started to come around for UNC too. North Carolina was able to force Shaw and company deep into their own territory, forcing the Gamecocks into a long fourth down.
South Carolina punted the ball to T.J. Thorpe, appearing in a game for UNC for the first time in two years.
The punt was a tight spiral and should have been an easily fielded ball for Thorpe, but something happened and the ball nailed his shoulder pads before hitting the deck. The Gamecocks eventually fell on the ball, recovering it around midfield.
North Carolina had the momentum shifting their way prior to Thorpe's muffed punt before being snatched away in a matter of seconds. South Carolina eventually scored a field goal two drives later, after the field position had been flipped and the Tar Heels lost the momentum they had fought so hard to get.
The UNC defense settled down after the first quarter flurry by the Gamecocks and the Tar Heels had just hit a short 20 yard field goal to pull within 10 points at 20-10.
The Tar Heel offense had just put up a seven minute drive, tiring the defense of the Gamecocks and briefly getting back some of the much-needed momentum lost on Thorpe's dropped punt.
Larry Fedora and the UNC defense were looking for another quick three and out so that the offense, who had just traveled 67 yards before, could get back on the field.
However, USC flipped the switch on the Tar Heels, as Shaw handed the ball off to Mike Davis at the 25 yard line.
The sophomore speedster hit the right side of his line and before anyone knew it, he was off to the races down the right sideline. He scampered into the end zone for a 75 yard touchdown that put USC up 27-10 and more or less ended the competitive phase of the ballgame.
Tre Boston overplayed the run and eventually was too late to catch Davis down the sideline---just one of several errors by the UNC secondary trying to slow down the Gamecocks and alleviate their ability to strike it big on any given play.
The run game for the Gamecocks was the backbone of Spurrier's offense Thursday night, whether it was Shaw, Davis, or Brandon Wilds. Throughout the game, the rushing production seemed to come in chunk for South Caroina, shredding up large swaths of turf.
Furthermore, even when UNC had stopped the run, there was the offensive line of South Carolina pushing the pile for critical extra yardage and first downs.
The game eventually went into a rain delay midway through the fourth quarter, but the damage had been done. By then, South Carolina had racked up 213 rushing yards on 30 carries, with Davis leading the way with 115 yards (averaging 11.5 yards per carry).
Coming in, UNC knew that the offensive line for the Gamecocks was going to be one of their strong points. Yet countless times, the Tar Heels tried to scheme up ways to get pressure on Shaw and Thompson in the backfield to disrupt the South Carolina offense.
None of that happened Thursday night, as Shaw continually sat in the backfield and had time to either shred the defense with his passes or move the chains with his legs, as North Carolina seemed to not have the same speed as their SEC competitors.
Shaw had all day in the backfield multiple times and took advantage of it with his speed and athletic ability, while Spurrier lined his huge offensive line up in the trenches and allowed his running backs to follow their blocks.
On his 29-yard scoring pass to Whitehurst, Thompson had seemingly hours to throw, as nobody on the UNC front seven got within earshot of the South Carolina backup QB.
North Carolina didn't even touch Shaw or Thompson until the third quarter, when Norkeithus Otis sacked Shaw near midfield. But by then, the damage had been done. The Gamecocks played a largely flawless game on both sides of the ball and were able to show why they are ranked in the top 10 early in the season.
Certainly the Tar Heels have plenty to think about and head back to the drawing board before they host Middle Tennessee State next week in Chapel Hill.