- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The good news for both South Carolina and North Carolina is that their ragged defenses from 2014 appeared to have made big strides in the opening game of 2015. The bad news is both offenses had their share of hiccups, including three interceptions by UNC quarterback Marquise Williams deep in Gamecocks territory. That proved to be the difference in a 17-13 South Carolina win.
What the win means for South Carolina: Some of those offseason whispers about an aging Steve Spurrier will quiet -- at least for a week. South Carolina’s coach spent the offseason defending himself and his program, including calling an impromptu news conference, against critiques that he might have aged out of the elite class of coaches in the SEC. From a well-timed fake punt to a strong second-half game plan against UNC, however, Spurrier looked like he still had plenty of tread left on the tires. The real tests, though, will come when the Gamecocks open SEC play.
What the loss means for North Carolina: Another year of early struggles and inexplicable blunders. Gene Chizik’s defense really did look much improved from last season, and sophomore tailback Elijah Hood was exceptional, racking up 138 yards. But Williams’ struggles could lead to a QB controversy in Chapel Hill, and coach Larry Fedora’s questionable play calling in the red zone is sure to have North Carolina fans up in arms.
Player of the game: South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore, who racked up a team-high 10 tackles while picking off Williams twice in the end zone. South Carolina’s offense had its moments, but QB Connor Mitch struggled badly (9-of-22 for 122 yards). It was the defense, led by Moore, that saved the game. Plenty of credit goes to first-year coordinator Jon Hoke, too. After the Gamecocks appeared to have some early trouble handling UNC’s tempo offense, Hoke adjusted nicely and utterly tormented the Tar Heels in the second half.
Uh, what?: Hood got the ball on each of UNC’s first two carries inside of South Carolina’s 25-yard line. He picked up 14 yards. On the Heels’ next 17 plays inside the Gamecocks' 25, however, Hood didn’t get a touch, and Williams tossed three picks. Hood emerged as a star Thursday, picking up 138 yards on 12 carries, but Fedora will be left answering questions about why he didn’t give his thundering tailback more red zone chances in a game UNC could’ve easily won.
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