Tar Heels' lesson: Convert on opportunities
As promised, North Carolina’s offense played fast Thursday night.
Fast and effective? Well, let’s just say there’s work to do on that front.
North Carolina’s offense, which set school records by averaging 40.6 points and 485 yards per game in Larry Fedora’s first season as its coach a year ago, managed just one touchdown and 293 yards as No. 6 South Carolina topped UNC 27-10 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“We’re in year two,” Fedora said. “I wish we were further along, but we’re not.”
The Gamecocks possess Jadeveon Clowney, widely regarded as the nation’s top defensive player. The junior defensive end, though, wasn’t the cause of UNC’s ills on offense.
Clowney had three tackles with none resulting in a loss for UNC.
Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner threw for 194 yards, tied for his lowest total in 13 games of running Fedora’s never-take-a-breath offense. For comparison, Renner surpassed the 300-yard passing mark six times a year ago while throwing for 3,356 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Last season, the Tar Heels set a school record by averaging 6.5 yards per play. Against South Carolina, UNC managed just 3.7 yards per play.
“Very tough defense,” Renner said. “They made more plays than us tonight. I thought we were well-prepared. It falls on our whole offense. We need to make more plays.”
The offense did have a few bright spots. After the Gamecocks bolted to a 17-0 lead, Renner engineered a 16-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Quinshad Davis.
But even that lone UNC touchdown drive comes with an asterisk. The Tar Heels appeared to be forced to punt after gaining 3 yards on Renner’s pass to Chase Tapley on third-and-20 from the UNC 35. A personal foul penalty on South Carolina’s Chaz Sutton, though, gave the Tar Heels a first down.
UNC’s offense had a chance to get the Tar Heels back in the game on the opening possession of the second half. With South Carolina leading 20-7, Renner led the Tar Heels inside the USC 20.
He completed six of seven passes, including a 13-yard pass to Mark McNeil on fourth-and-11.
But a holding penalty on tight end Eric Ebron, a preseason All-ACC pick, pushed the Tar Heels back to the South Carolina 27.
A 7-yard Renner scramble and a 14-yard run by Romar Morris erased that mistake and gave UNC a first down at the Gamecocks 6.
Morris ran 4 yards to the South Carolina 2, but he was stopped for no gain on second down. Renner, rushed in the pocket by blitzing safety Sharrod Golightly, hurried a pass to A.J. Blue that fell incomplete on third down.
The Tar Heels settled for a Thomas Moore field goal when a touchdown would have made for a far different feeling.
“If we execute after halftime, we get within 10,” Renner said. “We just weren’t getting the scores tonight — the same problem we had last year. Hopefully, we can work on that. We did put some drives together. Hopefully, we can build on that.”
The Tar Heels ran 79 plays — 20 more than the Gamecocks. South Carolina benefited from two quick-strike touchdowns: Shaq Roland’s 65-yard touchdown pass from Connor Shaw on the game’s third play and Mike Davis’ 75-yard touchdown run on the Gamecocks’ first offensive play of the second half.
UNC was left to grind through its possessions, and a slow grind certainly isn’t what Fedora and the Tar Heels prefer.
“There were plays out there to be made and we didn’t make enough of them tonight,” Renner said. “They are the No. 6 team in the country, and they played like it. Obviously, we have a lot to work on.”