Football.com - everything football

USC vs. UNC: Battle Of The Carolinas

By



South Carolina and North Carolina partake in a border war that will answer a lot of off-season questions. Photo by John Powell/Getty Images.
South Carolina and North Carolina partake in a border war that will answer a lot of off-season questions. Photo by John Powell/Getty Images.

Thursday's battle of the Carolinas will answer plenty of questions. South Carolina has high hopes for the upcoming season. The Gamecocks have been the subject of a lot of interest thanks in large part to Jadeveon Clowney. It’s also in South Carolina’s interest to turn in a sound opening weekend ahead of a conference clash with Georgia.

North Carolina has plenty of offense to challenge the Gamecocks and they will be looking to make a statement of intent to other ACC teams. These three areas will be of particular interest for South Carolina fans taking in the season opener.

Hype

South Carolina is starting the season ranked inside the Top 10. That’s high praise for a team that lost a stud running back, its best receiver, one of the nation’s hardest-hitting safeties and every single starting linebacker.

North Carolina is no joke. Bryn Renner might be the best quarterback in the ACC not named Tajh Boyd. The Tar Heels’ passing attack will put pressure on the Gamecocks and if the game stays close the SEC school might start to feel the weight of raised expectations.

Even against a quality team like North Carolina, the Gamecocks are the favorites and should win. All the team and individual accolades that have come South Carolina’s way are only deserved if the Gamecocks deliver. This will be an excellent opportunity to prove just how good the Gamecocks are.

This is a game that shouldn’t be a blowout, but should be a win for South Carolina. Whether or not they can put up will determine whether or not all the folks praising the Gamecocks and their players should shut up or shout louder.

Linebackers

Starting linebackers Sharrod Golightly, Marcquis Roberts and Kaiwan Lewis had a combined five tackles last year. That’s right, five tackles. Combined.

All of the Gamecocks’ linebackers are undersized. Golightly, the most experienced linebacker on the team, is a slight 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds. Roberts is the biggest body, but the least experienced. How they respond to an opponent’s running game will be critical to South Carolina’s success.

This will be the first time anyone’s seen this group of linebackers in action together against an actual opponent. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff schemes to take advantage of their collective speed. It’ll also be interesting to see if their inexperience and small stature present problems.

North Carolina doesn’t have the running game to truly test South Carolina’s linebacking corps. But a team like Georgia, South Carolina’s second opponent, does.

If the Gamecocks can’t contain the Tar Heels’ mediocre rushing attack, things will only get worse.

Jadeveon Clowney

This is a game tailor-made for Clowney. North Carolina’s best player is their quarterback Renner. If Clowney can disrupt Renner and the UNC passing game, the Tar Heels’ potentially high-octane offense will sputter to a stop.

The pass-heavy North Carolina offense is likely to employ a lot of three-step drops and quick passes to limit the time Renner has to stay in the pocket. They’ll also double-team Clowney, which is standard operating procedure at this point. In that way, before anyone’s taken a snap Clowney has impacted the game.

The dark-horse Heisman candidate should still find a way to drag down Renner and any other ball-carrier in the backfield. North Carolina doesn’t have the deepest of rosters, so if Clowney fails to put his imprint on the game it won’t bode well for contests against more robust SEC opponents.

Moreover, while Clowney gets most of the attention of the offensive line, his D-line teammates will need to prove they are worthy sidekicks. Chaz Sutton in particular should step up. Playing as the defensive end opposite Clowney, Sutton shouldn’t have much between him and paydirt in the backfield. If Sutton proves to be a handful, offensive lines will be spread thin.

The defensive line is South Carolina’s strength. Against a team like North Carolina, fans will expect that unit to take over the game. Failing to do so create a lot of questions. Successfully creating chaos in the trenches, on the other hand, will make the Gamecocks’ case for long-term success that much stronger.