Here’s a look at what could make the difference Thursday when North Carolina plays at No. 6 South Carolina at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
James Hurst vs. Jadeveon Clowney
North Carolina’s James Hurst is one of the top offensive tackles in college football and he’ll face his toughest challenge of the season when he lines up across from USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. If Hurst can block Clowney one-on-one, the Gamecocks will be in trouble. Look for USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward to move Clowney around, maybe even line No. 7 up at linebacker to confuse the UNC offensive line. The Tar Heels gave up less than one sack a game in 2012.
USC’s young linebackers
Linebackers Kaiwan Lewis (MLB), Marcquis Roberts (WLB) and Sharrod Golightly (Spur) will be making their first collegiate starts against North Carolina on a national stage. As a group, Lewis, Roberts and Golightly are faster than any trio the Gamecocks have put on the field in a long time, maybe ever. Who knows how they’ll react under the lights. UNC quarterback Bryn Renner will try and take advantage of their inexperience. The defensive line, led by Clowney, will have to occupy UNC’s offensive line and give this young, but talented, linebacker corps a chance to grow.
Running back by committee
The loss of Marcus Lattimore will be felt not only on the field, but in the locker room. Lattimore was the heart and soul of this team beginning with the Georgia game his freshman year. But the good news is that the Gamecocks were 9-1 over the last two seasons when Lattimore was out of the lineup. Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis are proven commodities and give the Gamecocks a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Shon Carson will get some carries as well.
The Gamecocks have had an unusual amount of success against spread offenses over the last two seasons, especially against Clemson and Missouri. Clemson arguably had a more talented set of skill players than UNC and the Gamecocks had little trouble shutting the Tigers down. The Gamecocks will need to establish a running game with wide receiver Bruce Ellington questionable and tight end Rory Anderson likely out.
South Carolina 28, North Carolina 17