After months of build-up, the 2015 college football season finally started Thursday night when North Carolina faced off against South Carolina. The result was a game that featured more mishaps than highlights, but the Gamecocks came away with a 17–13 win.
Here are three thoughts from the opener:
1. It wasn’t pretty, but South Carolina emerged with a victory.
The Gamecocks looked far from perfect Thursday night. Sophomore quarterback Connor Mitch went 9 of 22 for 122 yards with a touchdown, and lacked touch on some relatively easy attempts early in the contest. The offense was inconsistent at best; its first-quarter high point came when Sean Kelly converted a fake punt on South Carolina’s second series from scrimmage. Yet Steve Spurrier can probably live with all of that, because unlike last year—when Texas A&M routed the Gamecocks 52–28 in the Thursday night opener—the Head Ball Coach has a 1-0 team.
South Carolina’s stars of the night were tailback Shon Carson and linebacker Skai Moore. Carson broke free for the go-ahead 48-yard touchdown, while Moore reeled in two crucial interceptions, the second of which sealed the win.
Hood, North Carolina’s 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore tailback, barreled through defenders all night. He carried 13 times for 138 yards, showing off a blend of balance and athleticism that should attract attention from NFL scouting circles. Williams, the Tar Heels’ 6'2", 225-pound senior quarterback, delivered a far less impressive effort, however. He went 19 of 31 for 232 yards with a touchdown and three picks, two of which were costly mistakes that came in the Gamecocks’ end zone.
North Carolina’s weakness last year was its defense, a unit that looked significantly improved in its first game under new coordinator Gene Chizik. But the offense, which averaged 33.2 points per game in 2014, couldn’t convert when it mattered.
3. The Gamecocks are about to enter a tough SEC stretch.
For Spurrier’s sake, let’s hope South Carolina shook off its off-season rust on Thursday. Following the win over the Tar Heels, it will play Kentucky (Sept. 12), Georgia (Sept. 19), Missouri (Oct. 3) and LSU (Oct. 10) in four of its next five games. Fare well, and the Gamecocks will be in the thick of the conference race. Fare poorly, and memories of a disappointing 2014 campaign could come rushing back.