COLUMBIA — For one quarter at least, the South Carolina Gamecocks looked like the sixth-ranked team in the country, a team that was capable of winning an SEC title and maybe even compete for a national title.
Who: No. 6 South Carolina at No. 5 Georgia
When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Athens, Ga.
For 15 minutes of Thursday night’s season-opening 27-10 victory over North Carolina, the Gamecocks played near flawless football.
In the opening quarter, USC recorded points on all three possessions — two touchdowns and a field goal. South Carolina outgained the Tar Heels, 203-35, and held the ball for more than two thirds of the quarter.
The Gamecocks displayed big-play potential with a 65-yard scoring strike from quarterback Connor Shaw to Shaq Roland on the third play from scrimmage, and churned out 82 yards on the ground.
Defensively, the Gamecocks allowed just one first down and 35 yards of total offense as the Tar Heels managed just 10 snaps.
It looked like it was going to be easy. It looked like all the preseason hype surrounding the program and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was justified.
But the final three quarters were a different story. The final 45 minutes of football — which included a 104-minute weather delay — were a jumble of big plays, missed opportunities, poor execution and inconsistent play.
“We had some good plays and had a lot of bad plays,” said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. “We only had 59 plays, and (North Carolina) ended with 79. We’re happy to beat them. It was a good first game.
“They made a bunch of third downs, we were not very good at all on third-down conversions. But we managed to score enough touchdowns to beat them.”
After completing six of eight passes for 92 yards in the first quarter, Shaw completed just five of 12 for 57 yards the rest of the way. He was just one of three in the second half. He also added 43 rushing yards on 12 attempts.
“Connor did OK I think,” Spurrier said. “He didn’t have any picks, he only threw 20 passes, and he kept running and stopping. He’d run in there, stop and get knocked backwards. That’s not like him. At least he can dive in there for two or three yards.”
Take away Mike Davis’ 75-yard run in the third quarter and the Gamecocks mustered just 60 rushing yards on 20 attempts in the second half.
“Mike Davis’ run was about it for us in the second half,” Spurrier said. “We had a good little running game going in the first half, but didn’t do much in the second half.”
With temperatures hovering around 95 degrees at kickoff, both teams had to battle through the elements, cramps and fatigue.
The Tar Heels reeled off 79 plays, but were held to nearly 200 yards below their 2012 average. UNC quarterback Bryn Renner was sacked twice.
“What pleased me is that we played a team that snapped the ball 79-to-80 times and gave up 10 points,” said South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. “A team that averaged 40 points a ball game last year, with a veteran quarterback coming back ... The guys had to dig deep. We have a lot we can work on but those are some positives.”
Clowney appeared to be winded several times, especially in the second half, but the Tar Heels were clearly running away from him and double-teaming him all night.
The ESPN crew was critical of Clowney, but afterward he said he had not been feeling well and hadn’t eaten much that day. He finished with three tackles, three quarterback hurries, but no sacks. There was also a vicious clip on Clowney late in the game by UNC offensive tackle Kiaro Holts.
“I was pretty tired, but you have to play through that,” Clowney said. “I was still coming off the ball and that’s what matters. I might be bent over sometimes but when that ball snaps, I was getting off.
“It doesn’t matter what people say about me. We got the win. Did you see the score? That’s all that matters.”
Starting strong safety Kadetrix Marcus dislocated his shoulder and is expected to miss several weeks. Marcus’ backup, J.T. Gurley, finished with a team-high nine tackles against the Tar Heels.
Defensive tackle J.T. Suratt suffered a foot contusion and his status for next weekend’s game with Georgia is uncertain.