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August 27, 2013

North Carolina-South Carolina Capsule

Football Preview

By the time UNC touches the grass and kicks off the 2013 season at Williams-Brice Stadium, 277 days will have passed since the last time the Tar Heels played a football game.

Doesn't it feel great to have football back?

In case you haven't been near your television or computer in the last 38 seconds, South Carolina has a monster on their defensive line in the form of Jadeveon Clowney. Much of the offseason has been spent discussing Mr. Clowney's talents and his bone-rattling hit in the Gamecock's 33-28 victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl to end last year.

The Tar Heels will have to find a way to manage Clowney's abilities and production but despite the percentage of talk that has been lent to that topic, there are other storylines to discuss heading into Week One.

Without further ado, let's take a look at this week's match-up.

Jadeveon Clowney vs. James Hurst

This could be the best one-on-one match-up in all of college football during Week One, especially from an NFL Draft prognosticators standpoint.

Clowney is a consensus top 10 pick and James Hurst very well could join him in that draft projection range with a good showing in this battle.

Hurst has been asked some variation of the same question over and over again: How do you stop Clowney?

"It's going to be a big one. It's going to be 60 minutes of probably playing the best player I've ever gotten to block. But I'm looking forward to it," said Hurst. "He's a great player. If you want to take your game to the next level you have to play against the best players and that's part of it and I'm excited for it."

Hurst dealt with injuries towards the end of last year but has gotten through training camp without incident.

Having Hurst on the field is something head coach Larry Fedora is comforted by but he doesn't have any expectation that Clowney will be put down completely Thursday night.

"I'm not looking forward to it (Clowney vs. Hurst). The guy is a great player. I'm long beyond the one play from MIchigan. That guy makes plays, and he's a major factor. I am glad that James Hurst is going to be over there, but I also am not naive to think that's the only place he's going to line up. He's probably going to line up everywhere and be put into position to have success against our offense," said Fedora. "First of all, you understand you're not going to shut him (Clowney) down. He's too good of a football player."

Speaking of which...

Right Tackle

As much fun as it would be to see Clowney go head-to-head with Hurst on every snap, chances are the Gamecocks' coaches are aware that their best chance of maximizing their star defender's talents against UNC will be to move him around.

Furthermore, their just as aware as most Tar Heels fans that there was an intense battle for the right tackle position and they'll be looking to test that link in the chain as often as possible.

Jon Heck beat out Kiaro Holts, John Ferranto and Nick Appell for the starting job and he'll get his first start against an SEC defense that has high expectations.

He won't be the only new member of the o-line as Caleb Peterson and Landon Turner also step into starting roles for the first time.

South Carolina might even put Clowney inside to help get an interior push and to force the young guys up front to keep track of his every move, making a stressful environment even more so.

Scheming to stop Clowney

One more point about Clowney and his potential impact on the game before we move on.

Will he even be a factor?

UNC could neutralize the All-American simply by getting the ball out of quarterback Bryn Renner's hands quickly-something that is a trademark of Fedora's offense anyway.

The pace at which UNC's offense runs and the play calling will be as much of a factor in shutting down Clowney as the personnel.

North Carolina
#6/7 South Carolina
Game Day
Line: South Carolina by 11.5
Date: Thursday, August 29
Time: 6:00 pm
Stadium: Williams-Brice (80,250)

TV: ESPN (Watch Online)
Weather: Columbia Forecast
Series: UNC leads the series 34-17-4

South Carolina at a glance
Location: Columbia, S.C
Nickname: Gamecocks
Colors: Garnet & Black
Stadium: Williams-Brice (80,250)
Surface: Natural Grass
Conference: Southeastern
2012 Record: 11-2 (6-2)
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (208-72-2 overall, 66-37 at SC)
Official Site | Rivals Site
Roster | Schedule | Stats

South Carolina Returning Leaders (2012)
Passing: Connor Shaw
(154-228, 1956 yds, 17 TDs)

Rushing: Connor Shaw (131 carries, 435 yds, 3.3 avg, 3 TDs)
Receiving: Bruce Ellington
(40 rec, 600 yds, 15.0 avg, 7 TDs)

South Carolina Rankings (2012)
Passing: 238.1 YPG (57th)
Rushing: 138.5 YPG (91st)
Point For: 31.5 PPG (44th)
Points Against: 18.2 PPG (13th)

North Carolina Returning Leaders (2012)
Passing: Bryn Renner
(276-422, 3356 yds, 28 TDs)
Rushing: A.J. Blue (82 carries, 443 yds, 5.3 avg, 9 TDs)
Receiving: Qunishad Davis
(61 rec, 776 yds, 12.7 avg, 5 TDs)

North Carolina Rankings (2012)
Passing: 291.8 YPG (26th)
Rushing: 193.8 YPG (33rd)
Point For: 40.6 PPG (8th)
Points Against: 25.7 PPG (53rd)

Of course, when South Carolina played Clemson in last year's regular season finale, Clowney had his best game of the year with 4.5 sacks, so he has the talent to dominant anyway. Clemson plays as fast as anyone in the ACC but even still, Clowney won't have as long to rush the passer as he does against the more traditional, pro-style orientated offenses that litter the SEC.

UNC's offensive weapons

The first year under Fedora's offensive system was a banner year for the Tar Heels.

Year number two should be even better.

Giovani Bernard might be gone but the Tar Heels are stacked at running back even without him. It was announced last week that Romar Morris will start while A.J. Blue will serve as his back-up.

That decision was made in large part because of Morris' progression on the field but also because Blue was unable to stay healthy long enough to keep getting first team reps during training camp. Make no mistake, however, Blue will get his touches this year regardless if he's on the field for the first snaps of the game.

It's unclear if freshman T.J. Logan will play in Week One because of an injury but he and fellow freshman Ryan Switzer have made an immediate impression and will be a big part of this year's team. If Logan can play, expect Switzer to line up in the backfield, in the slot and a host of other spots on the field while creating mismatches.

Eric Ebron is another match-up nightmare South Carolina will need to focus on along with Sean Tapley, T.J. Thorpe and Quinshad Davis.

Connor Shaw

There was some discussion that Dylan Thompson might beat out senior signal-caller Connor Shaw for South Carolina's starting quarterback gig.

That didn't happen, so UNC fans will mostly see Shaw on Thursday.

But don't be surprised if Thompson makes some appearances throughout the game. Steve Spurrier is a notoriously fickle man when it comes to sticking with a quarterback.

Shaw's greatest strength is his game-management skills. He's 17-3 in his career as a starter and can move the chains with his arms and his legs.

He won't blow anybody away with his stats but he gets the job done and can be annoying for defenses who won't feel overwhelmed by his abilities, but simply can't get him off the field.

If Shaw struggles, Thompson will get inserted into the game quickly and will provide the Gamecock's with an arm that can get the ball down the field.



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