Rapid Reaction: South Carolina suffers agonizing upset loss to North Carolina
It appeared that the South Carolina offense had a burst early in the game with a field goal, and then a highlight-reel play from newcomer Tavien Feaster. But the defense proved to be too soft in the second half as North Carolina scored on a pair of 90-plus yard drives.
In the decisive drive, QB Jake Bentley threw an interception on third down with 2:47 remaining as North Carolina held on for a 24-20 victory. The defense forced another possession for the Gamecocks and Bentley was intercepted again with 1:43 remaining.
The early positive start for the Gamecocks offense hit a rough patch and they struggled to 1-for-5 on 3rd down and limped to a 13-6 halftime lead. Part of the problem was the Gamecocks lost WR Bryan Edwards to an injury midway through the half, and converted QB Dakereon Joyner had 2 catches in the first half to Edwards’ 1. Somehow, South Carolina overcame North Carolina leading in yards (198-169), first downs (11-9) and yards per play (5.7-5.6), to have the edge on the scoreboard.
The first half offered a glimpse into a South Carolina defense that allowed plenty of big plays for the Tar Heels, but they also forced 3 field goals in the first 3 quarters. They were great inside their own 20, but plenty soft in the middle of the field.
That defense caved late as North Carolina scored on a seven-play, 98-yard drive that was capped by an unbelievable one-handed 22-yard catch by Dyami Brown. The Tar Heels then converted a two-point try to cut the deficit to three points less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Will Muschamp will likely be questioned about his conservative nature, including calling for a punt with 11:43 remaining near midfield with a three-point lead. The Tar Heels responded with a 95-yard scoring drive again over seven plays to take the lead as freshman QB Sam Howell shined.
In a death knell to the Gamecocks’ hopes, the ensuing drive lost 8 yards as Dowdle suffered a 2-yard loss, and Bentley was sacked on 3rd down.
One offensive bright spot was Feaster and Dowdle combined for nearly 100 rushing yards and a TD by halftime. Bentley was largely efficient passing, going 9-for-14 for 75 yards, but on a drive that led to a missed field goal, he made a questionable decision on third down.
Retired Clemson Sports Information Director Tim Bourret reported that Feaster is the only player to score a touchdown for both programs, as Feaster is the third known player to play for South Carolina and Clemson.
According to my records Tavien Feaster is first player to score a TD for Clemson and South Carolina. I know of only two others to play for both schools, Carey Cox in 1940s and Paul Williams between 1978-81.
— Tim Bourret (@TimBourret) August 31, 2019
The defense had several highlights, including Javon Kinlaw, who blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt in the first half to keep the game at 10-3, and registered a sack early in the second half.
A key sequence came midway through the third quarter. The defense held for a field goal, which kept it at 13-9. Then Shi Smith made the subsequent kickoff return to the Tar Heels’ 36-yard line. Then Bentley may have found a favorite new target in TE Kyle Markway, who made a 15-yard catch on third down and 14 on a play that was reviewed. Then Markway scored on another third down, this time with seven yards to go, for a 22-yard touchdown to go up 20-9. There was plenty of concern about the tight end position in the preseason after two departures, but Markway certainly quieted those questions on that drive alone.
The momentum continued with four minutes left in the third quarter when North Carolina appeared to mount a productive drive only for Howell to be sacked and fumble. Jaycee Horn made the sack and Kinlaw made the recovery, but the Gamecocks couldn’t convert on their next drive.
— James (@GamecockSplash) August 31, 2019