Cloninger: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (USC-UNC)

Posted by David Cloninger on August 30, 2013 

South Carolina running back Brandon Wilds (22) was a force on short yardage gains during the Gamecock's game against North Carolina, Thursday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com

NO. 6 SOUTH CAROLINA 27, NORTH CAROLINA 10

THE GOOD

(YOUR NICKNAME HERE): The talk all summer was how Steve Spurrier was going to be able to play two quarterbacks. USC marketing took him up on that, playing a video highlight package of Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson during the game, set to (what else?) “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ Ez-Rock. Hey, Shaw played well, and Thompson leads the NCAA in completion percentage and in passes thrown for touchdowns (1-for-1). But the real duo was the running back tandem of Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds. I’m now taking suggestions for a good nick for the two, instead of the overdone and clichéd “Thunder and Lightning” (which while Mike’s older brother James Davis was the “Thunder” in Clemson’s version of it, it doesn’t need to be recycled). Did either of those two have a lost yard last night? Goodness, they ran like balls of hate. Davis, a bruising battering ram with undersung speed, bowled over defenders and then out-ran the secondary for a 75-yard jaunt. Wilds played like every carry was another spot to prove just how angry he was at having to redshirt last year, and again showing why everybody who thought he’d be an afterthought out of high school was completely wrong. Wilds got hit on a third-and-1 behind the line, but somehow kept churning for a 10-yard gain. He also put on a spin worthy of Michael Jackson to leave one defender clutching nothing but humidity. These two got off to monstrous starts and at least eased the thought in Spurrier’s, and everybody’s, mind – can USC replace Marcus Lattimore?

HERE NOW: Shaq Roland’s 2012 was, to be kind, forgettable. There was something, and there was nothing, and Roland was the latter. The thinking went that if he just got that one big play under his belt, like Alshon Jeffery did when he caught those three touchdowns against Kentucky, that it would finally dust the cobwebs and get him on track. There are still 11 (12? 13?) games to go, but perhaps the roller-coaster car is finally ready to leave the station. Third play of the game, Shaw fades back, arches high to Roland breaking away from his man. I don’t think I’m the only one who thought, “Well, he’s gotta catch it.” He did, 65-yard touchdown. And while he dropped a TD right in his mitts later (low pass, but he should have caught it), he rebounded to catch another 10-yard pass. USC needed someone to step up with big-play man Bruce Ellington ailing. The kid in Sidney Rice’s old number was it.

SMALL FRY: Spurrier didn’t want to try it. Facing fourth-and-2 from his own 30-yard-line, the Head Ball Coach could try for a 47-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead, or keep trying for 2 yards on the way to a 14-0 lead. But when that first down got picked up and the next three plays went nowhere, Spurrier didn’t want to tempt fate twice. He summoned true freshman walk-on kicker Elliott Fry, who had won the job in preseason camp, and asked him to deliver. First game. All the way from Texas. Whole country watching. Fry looks like he just stepped off a box of Life cereal. He calmly booted it right down the middle for three points, kicked a 26-yarder later and was perfect on PATs. Successful first test.

SUGAR KANE: The Legend of Kane Whitehurst continues to approach Chuck Norris levels (or at least, the Tyler Hull phenomenon that hovered over preseason camp last year). The man so fast he ran the 40-mile in less than five seconds snuck behind the defense and caught a fade pattern from Thompson for an uncontested touchdown. Next up: The Hot Route.

DON’T CALL ME HOLLY: Sharrod Golightly played a decent game, with six tackles, including one for loss, and helping direct a hurried and flustered middle-of-the-field defense. His one huge play helped clinch the win. Trailing 20-7 at the half, North Carolina began marching to start the third quarter. It was Larry Fedora’s classic offense, keeping the defense guessing and dinking and dunking downfield. After Romar Morris earned a second-and-goal at the 2, USC stiffened on the next play. On third down, Bryn Renner tried to pass and found a facemask full of Golightly charging at him. Renner hurried the throw and couldn’t complete it. The Tar Heels were forced to kick a field goal. A touchdown there makes it 20-14.

SPEED PLUS HANDS: Speaking of momentum-turners, wind back the clock to the second quarter, when USC’s 17-0 burst in the first was quickly being forgotten. The Tar Heels scored to make it 17-7, and USC went three-and-out. Hull hit a good punt, but UNC was going to have great field position, until T.J. Thorpe set up for the cradle catch, and straight dropped it. Damiere Byrd, running ahead of the pack as usual, was there to lay a lick on him, but instead dove on the ball. The possession went nowhere, but it kept the Tar Heels from working a short field after they’d just scored a TD. Byrd doesn’t get a lot of credit for being a great special-teams performer. That was more evidence of why he should.

MORE OF THE SAME: A couple of ugly moments, but USC won. The Gamecocks are 1-0 again. Actually, this game was a lot prettier than some of the hot-garbage openers that USC has put forth, those ones where the “W” was quickly overlooked in favor of griping about play-calling/execution/uniforms/bad concessions/heat/not staying for the alma mater/disrespect.

THE BAD

AMAZONIAN: The field resembled a rain forest. Hot, muggy -- as someone once said, it was like living in someone’s mouth. It took a toll on everyone down there, and I don’t think Jadeveon Clowney played badly, but he was affected by it. Everybody was affected by it. The (potential) problem is next week. Athens, Ga., at 4:30 p.m.? Sanford Stadium will be warm enough to glaze pottery at the 40, and Hairy Dawg will be carrying a pitchfork.

WAS IT?: Couldn’t ask for a better start from USC’s offense. Score a long touchdown on the game’s third play, then motor down for a field goal on the next drive, then pop in another TD before the first quarter ends. Obviously, there was no way of knowing how the game would go, or if Fry would be money when the bell rung, but why I can’t endorse USC’s offense as perfectly fine right now (outside of the two running backs) is because of two reasons. One, the first quarter was exactly half of USC’s entire offensive output (203 yards to 406). Two, the Gamecocks had since Ellington caught that game-winner in the Outback Bowl to script the first 15 to 20 plays.

THAT’S WORKING, SO STOP IT: Davis and Wilds were running through the Tar Heels. They could have smashed through brick walls. It gave the Gamecocks a two-dimensional phase where one back would never get tired, and a clear advantage. So USC began passing. Shaw began to get hurried and rush his throws, and that got UNC back in the game. Davis’ long TD run set the world back on its axis, but when the Gamecocks were struggling to get anything going, I was cringing every time Shaw dropped back.

REMEMBER THESE GUYS?: I spoke all preseason about how USC had two of the best weapons in the league in tight ends Busta Anderson and Jerell Adams. Obviously, Anderson didn’t play last night, but Drew Owens looks like he was produced from the Tight End Construction Manual. I don’t necessarily think this was a “Bad” entry, but it surely wasn’t the other two in this piece. Owens caught one pass for 5 yards. That was the extent of the tight end production. Now, a lot of times, they ran two-tight end and those guys stayed in to block. And it’s not like it hurt the scoring. Perhaps I’m being too critical for the first week, against that team, in a nasty atmosphere.

YOU TALKIN’ TO ME? HIM? ME?: USC had some illegal substitution penalties, one on which the Gamecocks subbed out nearly their entire defense. Eh. It was the first game, lot of new guys, etc. If it happens in Game 12, then there’s a problem.

THE BOLTS: Lightning delays stink. But being a complete expert on them (I covered USC baseball, 2010-13), there’s nothing to do but sit, wait and play Connect Four on a handy travel-sized key ring board. I’ve become rather famous for it.

THE UGLY

THINNER: Spurrier quipped a week or two ago that depth isn’t a word that USC can throw around a lot this year. When Kadetrix Marcus went down with a separated shoulder early in the game, that brought up the word. The good news is, USC has a replacement in T.J. Gurley, and he played well, leading the Gamecocks with nine tackles. The bad and ugly news is, the Gamecocks are that much closer to having to revamp who plays where in the secondary. There was no listed backup to Gurley in the pre-game depth chart, and Marcus may be out for quite a while. It’s a part of the game, and USC was hoping it wouldn’t happen, but it did.

CHEAP: Clowney was OK from the flagrant cheap shot that Kiaro Holts delivered. My concern is other players throughout the course of the year trying to do the same thing. I realize that accidents happen all the time, because this is a rough game and you never know what can go on when bodies are flying all around. I also understand that especially in the trenches, there are a lot of shots a player can take, specifically to take out another player, that can go undetected or look like an accident. Holts’ hit was just a stinker, a clear case of intentionally trying to hurt somebody. Perhaps other players will do the “Whoops, I tripped” excuse. Clowney’s a target, someone that disrupts game plans. Somebody might want to get famous. There’s a reason why we all know who Taylor Wyndham is, and not just people around here because of his hometown.

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