Who: North Carolina (8-4, 5-3 ACC in 2012) at No. 6 South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC in 2012)
When: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250), Columbia
Radio: WWIK-FM 98.9
Line: South Carolina by 11
COLUMBIA — The North Carolina football team’s offense put up some staggering numbers last fall.
In 2012, the Tar Heels were eighth in the nation in scoring, averaging 40.6 points a game. North Carolina scored 30 or more points in nine of its 12 games and hit the 60-point threshold on two occasions. The Tar Heels averaged 485.6 yards of total offense and 75 offensive plays per game.
UNC quarterback Bryn Renner threw for 3,356 yards, second in school history, while completing 68 percent of his passes and having the ACC’s highest career pass efficiency rating at 154.59.
The Tar Heels’ up-tempo, no-huddle offense would wear down opponents, routinely leaving defenders gasping for air late in games.
If all this sounds familiar to South Carolina and its fans, it should. The Gamecocks faced a similar offensive juggernaut in each of the last two season finales against Clemson. Behind the scenes, some of the Gamecocks are calling the Tar Heels’ offense ‘Clemson Lite.’
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and UNC head coach Larry Fedora have similar philosophies — get up to the ball and run the next play as quickly as possible. Never give the defense a chance to rest or relax.
That strategy didn’t work so well for Clemson in its last two meetings with the Gamecocks. The Tigers scored a total of 29 points in the two games combined.
In preparing for the Tar Heels, the Gamecocks’ defense has watched plenty of game film on North Carolina, but they’ve also drawn on the success they’ve had against Clemson.
“Clemson and North Carolina do a lot of similar things on offense,” said South Carolina defensive end Chaz Sutton. “They both like to get up to the line of scrimmage and run as many plays as they can. Every day in practice, we’re working on getting off the ground, getting lined up and getting ready for each snap. They try to wear you down, but we’re in great shape. We’ve worked hard on our conditioning all summer.”
The key to slowing down the Tar Heels might not involve All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or anyone else on USC’s defense. If South Carolina’s offense can control the football, the UNC offense will be stuck on the sideline.
It’s a strategy that has proven to be extremely effective against Clemson.
The Gamecocks’ offense has been able to control the football, and thus the clock, keeping the ball away from Clemson. In 2011, USC held the ball for 37:17 in its 34-12 victory over the Tigers. A year ago, USC controlled the clock for 39:59 in a 27-17 win. The Tigers, who pride themselves on the number of plays they run each game, had just 60 and 59 plays, respectively, in each of the last two games against USC. The Gamecocks recorded 86 and 73 snaps, respectively.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is hoping for a similar scenario Thursday night against the Tar Heels.
“Hopefully, your offense can stay on the field a bit,” Spurrier said. “We’ve been fortunate, obviously, to do that against Clemson the past two years.”
What has Fedora concerned the most is the Gamecocks’ run defense, which has been among the best in the SEC for the past two seasons. A year ago, USC allowed just 120 rushing yards per game.
“That scares the heck out of me,” Fedora said. “They did a good job stopping the run (against Clemson). They stopped the run and put them in passing situations, and I think they took Clemson out of their comfort level. When you’re trying to do things that you don’t normally do, it makes it tough.”