Tarheels Sack Gamecocks, 31-17, in Duke Mayo Kick-off Classic

Dick Cox

September 05, 2023 at 2:52 pm.

Charlotte, N.C. – The North Carolina Tar Heel’s defense came into their season opening game against South Carolina with a chip on its shoulders after finishing last season ranked as one of the worst defenses in the country. With something to prove, the UNC defense sacked Gamecock quarterback Spencer Rattler nine times, and held the South Carolina offense to -2 yards rushing for the game on their way to a 31-17 victory in the Duke Mayo Kick-off Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC.

“The defense stepped up and they played so hard tonight and so tough. We knew they’d be much better … This is a great start for us,” said Tar Heel’s Coach Mack Brown. The Tar Heels had just 17 sacks all of 2022 and surrendered 30.8 points and 436.5 yards per game.

Heisman Trophy hopeful Drake Maye threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns. British Brooks ran for 103 yards and Omarion Hampton added two short TD runs for the Tar Heels.

“I thought [Maye] played great. He’ll be so hard on himself because all he’ll think about is the two interceptions,” Brown said. “He won’t think about all the other things he did, but I thought for three quarters he handled the game as good as anybody could ever handle it.”

The win was Brown’s 100th at UNC. Brown’s first game at UNC was a 31-10 loss to South Carolina in 1988. His first game back at UNC after a stint at Texas and a brief television career was a 24-20 win over the Gamecocks in 2019. Brown is the first head coach in Football Bowl Subdivision history with 100 wins at two different schools.

Rattler threw to eight different receivers for 353 yards. He also ran for 43 yards, but lost 65 yards because of sacks. Rattler completed 30 of 39 pass attempts (77%) for 353 yards. He had a quarterback rating of 159.2, according to ESPN.

“He’s a hell of a player,” South Carolina Head Coach Shane Beamer said. “He gave us a chance to win the football game.”

Beamer was not pleased at all with the poor offensive line play that could not open up holes for the running game, nor protect their quarterback.

“Can’t allow our quarterback to get hit like that,” Beamer said. “We gotta protect him better, obviously.”

South Carolina receiver Xavier Legette had a career night in Charlotte. Legette had 178 yards on nine catches, including a 37-yarder on the Gamecocks’ first touchdown drive. He was clutch and explosive, as evidenced by his 52 yards after the catch. With USC’s top receiver “Juice” Wells out with an injury, Legette made a case for himself to be Rattler’s new No. 1 wide receiver. After the game Legette said, “I had to use my fifth year to come back, but just for this moment right here,”

The South Carolina defense gave up 437 yards to the Tar Heels’ offense, including 269 passing and 25 rushing yards to UNC quarterback Maye. Bright spots for the Gamecocks defense came in the form of two interceptions. O’Donnell Fortune stole a pass from Gavin Blackwell in the third quarter. Kajuan Banks intercepted Maye in the fourth quarter. Neither ensuing drive resulted in a score.

The loss was only the Gamecocks’ second in six meetings with UNC since 2000.

So what was learned about UNC from the week one game?

North Carolina is a top three contender in the ACC. The Tar Heels’ defense is very much improved from last season. Maye is elite quarterback and a Heisman Trophy candidate

What was learned about USC from week one?

The South Carolina offensive line is lackingl! They can’t block for a sub-par running game nor can they give Rattler time to throw the football. The Gamecocks do not have a SEC caliber running back on their roster. South Carolina rushed 31 times for minus two yards. Carolina’s defensive line can still not stop the run and their young secondary was suspect and picked apart by Maye.

On the positive side, when given the time to throw Rattler showed that he is an elite quarterback. Legette showed that he is a big time receiver and he could have a big season for the Gamecocks! Quarterback Luke Doty could have found a new position playing receiver as he had three catches for 41 yards. The South Carolina special teams were once again special by successfully executing an onside kick and they were perfect is all phases of the kicking game.

South Carolina returns to Williams-Brice Stadium to host Furman on Sept. 9. UNC will play Appalachian State next Saturday at 5:15 p.m. in Chapel Hill.

Coach’s Postgame Report

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