South Carolina’s defense held a fourth-quarter lead.

That happened Thursday in Jon Hoke’s debut.

Steve Spurrier’s sixth all-time win over the Tar Heels was hard-fought throughout and provided a boost of confidence for a program entering the season with many questions on both sides of the football.


  • This was fifth-year senior Shon Carson’s best career game and it’s not even close. Carson rushed four times in the fourth quarter for 75 yards, including the go-ahead 48-yard touchdown.
  • Jon Hoke’s bend-but-don’t-break approach defensively led to three interceptions, four sacks and an overall solid performance against one of the better offenses the Gamecocks will face this season.
  • Steve Spurrier stayed with a stubborn, run-heavy approach to wear down North Carolina, taking advantage on the ground in the second half when the Tar Heels fell out of rhythm offensively.
  • Linebacker Skai Moore, South Carolina’s best player on the defense each of the last two seasons, managed quite a performance to open his junior year.
Report card
  • OFFENSE: (B-) Streaky in first start, Connor Mitch showed touch in the screen and had some success in zone read situations, but passes to the second level were misplaced and when given time, appeared hesitant to launch. Pharoh Cooper fought cramps to manage 65 yards of total offense, including a 9-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Brandon Wilds and David Williams split touches on offense and combined for 137 total yards, but it was Shon Carson who hit the home run, taking a handoff 48 yards to the house on his first touch to give the Gamecocks a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
  • DEFENSE: (B+) There were missed tackles in the open field and a couple big Marquis Williams completions to Bug Howard, but the defensive showed resiliency against an up-tempo attack and hopped on opportunities when given the chance. Interceptions from Skai Moore and Jordan Diggs ended potential scoring drives and a pair of third-down sacks by Kelsey Griffin reversed field position. Marquavius Lewis was credited with a 4th-and-inches stop in the third quarter and Kansas transfer Isaiah Johnson made his presence felt with a pass breakup on a skinny post to Howard. Jon Hoke’s plan was to give the Tar Heels underneath stuff and avoid gaping holes down field and the Gamecocks executed.
  • SPECIAL TEAMS: (B+) JUCO transfer Sean Kelly’s 17-yard run on a fake punt in the first quarter was play-calling genius from Spurrier that gave the Gamecocks some momentum after a rocky start. Elliott Fry, one of the SEC’s most accurate kickers, made 1-of-2 field goal tries, missing on a 57-yard yarder to end the first half.
  • COACHING: (B) The fake punt call was unexpected and the ground game approach was a welcomed surprise. You have to tip your cap to Hoke in his debut as the Gamecocks’ co-defensive coordinator. He rarely brought pressure, but South Carolina’s front four generated a pass rush. I didn’t like Spurrier’s 4th-and-1 call inside the North Carolina 15 nursing a four-point lead in the fourth quarter, but it was the previous play — a handoff four yards behind the line of scrimmage — that really damaged the potential scoring drive.

Game plan

This offense looked awfully similar to the Marcus Lattimore years — a lot of zone read powers with an occasional quarterback keeper. The formula (low-risk play calls) worked well for a team breaking in a new quarterback in need of first downs as much as points.

Game balls

  • Shon Carson, RB — The veteran back, who entered the game as a third-teamer, ran hard in the fourth quarter and showed great vision in limited action.
  • Skai Moore, LB — The team’s top tackler was steady in run support and picked off Williams twice in the red zone, including a pivotal fourth-and-goal with less than four minutes remaining. Moore is the SEC’s active leader with nine career interceptions.

Injury update

Several players were affected by cramps in the first half including Mitch, Cooper and Deebo Samuel. Mitch and Cooper returned after treatment, but Samuel left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. Mitch trotted to the locker room with a trainer early in the fourth after a sack and was replaced by Perry Orth.