The North Carolina defense shut down offensive genius Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks in the second half of the 21-15 loss, yielding 62 yards and two first downs. South Carolina converted only 1 of 12 third-down conversions on the day, while gaining just 282 total yards.
But the late-arriving offense and the special teams unit failed to convert on numerous chances that could have turned this fifth loss of the season into an ESPN upset special.
Wide receivers Greg Little and Brandon Tate both dropped touchdown passes, linebacker Bruce Carter somehow missed blocking a punt in South Carolina territory and defensive end E.J. Wilson bobbled a potential interception – also on USC's side of the 50-line yard. It's hard to criticize the players when they work hard to put themselves in positions to make plays, but as Davis has said throughout the season, those are plays that UNC must capitalize on if the Tar Heels are going to win ball games this fall.
Perhaps the two largest miscues on Saturday took place in the kicking game. Connor Barth snapped his consecutive field goal streak at 19 by yanking a 49-yard attempt wide left in the first quarter, and then holder Ryan Baucom muffed a hold on an extra point attempt with 14:53 remaining in the ball game.
"Those two things you just take for granted and think that they're almost automatic with Connor as far as the kicker and the situation, all of a sudden -- those last two or three plays of the game -- instead of trying to throw a Hail Mary in the end zone, you're kicking a 47-yard field goal to try to win the game," Davis said.
Baucom also botched a snap in the final minutes against East Carolina, preventing Barth from trying a potential game-winning field goal in Greenville, N.C. Davis was asked on Sunday afternoon if it was time to make a change at the holder spot.
"I'd love to – I wish there was an alternative," Davis said. "The problem is that I'm not sure with five games left to go… Ryan, for the most part, has done a very reliable and good job.
"He and Connor have worked together for a long period of time, but it's something that I am very disappointed about. I don't know that there's necessarily anybody that has any significant game experience to go in there and do it."
But despite the various mistakes and missed opportunities, this young North Carolina squad continued to fight to the very end, putting themselves in position to overcome an 18-point fourth quarter deficit against a top-10 nationally-ranked opponent.
"The effort was outstanding," Davis said. "As I said in the press conference after the game, I think our players played as hard as they physically possibly could for 60 minutes and that's always going to give you a chance."
The coaching staff will take advantage of the coming bye week to reflect on how they have managed this team through the first seven games of the season, as well as to see if any of these costly mistakes can possibly be turned into positive game-changing plays with five conference games on the horizon.
"The [goal] is for us to realistically look at our football team and say, ‘Okay, here's where we are today, here's the things that we're doing well, here's the things that we're not doing well, are they are fixable now, can we actually fix them, or should we just get rid of it?'" Davis said.
"And then not try to do some of those things, so that we give our kids the best opportunity over these next five ball games to play the most efficient that we can and have the most success that we can."