COLUMBIA — South Carolina entered Thursday night’s season opener against North Carolina with many questions hovering over the program.
The No. 6 Gamecocks answered most of them as they dismissed the Tar Heels 27-10 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The one thing South Carolina hadn’t figured on was a weather delay of one hour and 44 minutes. But when play resumed at 10:30 – 4 ½ hours after kickoff – the Gamecocks responded with a pair of defensive stands to preserve the victory in front of the few thousand fans who stuck around until the end.
“It could have been a lot closer,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “Our red zone defense kept them out a couple of times. Other than that it was a very good win. They just gave up too many big plays.”
Chief among the question marks was how would South Carolina’s running attack fare in the post-Marcus Lattimore era? And how would the Gamecocks replace speedy receiver and return specialist Ace Sanders?
South Carolina (1-0) didn’t take long to answer those queries. After a couple of tough runs by Mike Davis, Connor Shaw ignited the home crowd on the third play from scrimmage when he found Shaq Roland behind North Carolina’s secondary. The 65-yard scoring pass put the Gamecocks ahead 7-0.
“We recognized what coverage they were in,” Shaw said of his touchdown pass. “Shaq had a great route and ran through it for a touchdown.”
After a field goal on its second possession, Dylan Thompson came off the bench on South Carolina’s third series and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Kane Whitehurst for a 17-0 lead.
Then the Gamecocks went flat.
North Carolina (0-1) put together a lengthy drive that resulted in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bryn Renner to Quinshad Davis.
South Carolina responded with a 26-yard field goal from Elliott Fry to take a 20-7 lead at halftime.
“We had five first-half possessions, and we scored on four of them,” Spurrier said. “That’s not too shabby. We had a good little running game.”
After North Carolina opened the second half with a drive that ended with a field goal, cutting the deficit to 10, South Carolina restored order in a hurry.
Davis took the handoff from his 25, broke right and outraced three defenders into the end zone. The 75-yard run took only 13 seconds to push the Gamecocks’ lead to 17.
But just when South Carolina figured it had the game in hand – a comfortable lead with 8:20 to play – lightning strikes within eight miles of the game forced a delay. The 81,572 fans in attendance were ordered to leave their seats.
Heavy rains and more lightning arrived, and the game was delayed nearly two hours.
South Carolina finished the game with 228 yards rushing, with Davis accounting for 115 on 12 carries. His backup, Brandon Wilds, added 64 more and Shaw contributed 55.
All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney did not have any sacks and appeared winded after several plays on the humid night.
“Jadeveon almost had a sack at the end,” Spurrier said. “I told him during the break he should be well rested.”
Spurrier seemed less than pleased with Clowney’s conditioning.
“Did you watch what I was watching,” he asked a reporter. “I don’t have to say it. We’ll try to work on our conditioning for the entire team.”
Clowney joked that he was ready to answer questions about his conditioning.
“We condition all offseason. They came out there, and we tried to go fast,” said Clowney. “We can’t simulate that fast offense. It was the first game of the season. It’s going to get better.”