Grading the Keys to Victory: North Carolina
I. Come Out Firing
The Gamecocks opened the game strong, applying pressure on defense and moving the ball on offense. They scored the first 14 points of the game and outscored UNC 21-3 in the first half, led by quarterback Chris Smelley who threw a career-high three touchdowns. The Gamecocks were able to maintain a balanced attack throughout the first half as Cory Boyd rushed for nearly 100 yards in the first two quarters. The Gamecocks were not, however, able to carry over that dominance to the second half as UNC came firing back.
II. Protect the Ball
Smelley threw a fourth quarter interception and also narrowly avoided disaster on several other throws. He was pretty lucky not to throw more than one interception. Running back Mike Davis also added a rare fumble to the turnover total. On the positive side of things, UNC was not able to capitalize on either turnover with points due to strong play by the defense. Smelley did not have a perfect afternoon, by any stretch, but he didn't give the game away like Miami quarterback Kyle Wright did a week ago either.
III. Slow Down the Run
On a day the South Carolina defense ultimately was the difference between winning and losing for the Gamecocks, they held UNC to 113 yards on 36 attempts. While some of that success can be attributed to the fact UNC was behind the entire game, the 3.1 yards per carry the Gamecocks surrendered certainly got the job done. Even with a terrible second half offensively the Gamecocks were able to grind out more yards a carry than UNC with a 3.4 yard average.
IV. Throw the Ball Around
In what was the most impressive first half of the season, the Gamecocks appeared well on their way to a big victory over their northern neighbors. Smelley looked poised in the pocket, threw the ball to spots without hesitation and seemed on track to have his best outing as a Gamecock. The receivers were getting open and the offensive line was protecting well, which was a big reason for Smelley's confidence in the pocket. The running backs were also breaking off big chunks of yardage on the ground.
The second half was a completely different story, however, as the line did not block well and the Gamecocks were unable to pick up first down yardage on third and short situations. This caused Spurrier to lose confidence in his offense, which led to conservative play-calling that allowed UNC back in the ball game.
V. Make a "Special" Play
Captain Munnerlyn brought back a punt 38 yards that he nearly took to the house. Cliff Matthews also nearly blocked another punt. Chris Culliver didn't have quite as much running room as he has in recent weeks on kickoff returns. While the Gamecocks did not make a huge play this week, the special teams are still much improved over previous years' units and should continue to get better. All-American candidate kicker Ryan Succop was inches away from putting the game away in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter when his 48 yard field goal attempt smacked off the upright.
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