UNC football's offense can’t find rhythm
COLUMBIA, S.C. — North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner’s first throw Thursday was a modest one, a hurried screen pass for a loss of two yards, and a sign of respect for a ferocious, imposing South Carolina defense anchored by Jadeveon Clowney.
Already down by a touchdown before he even touched the football, Renner and the Tar Heels spent most of the first quarter feeling out the Gamecock defense and finding their bearings in an imposing SEC atmosphere sparked by the 80,000 fans in attendance.
Renner’s screen passes continued to net little yardage, tight end Jack Tabb dropped a pair of balls thrown his way, and the timid UNC offense mustered just 35 yards in the game’s first 15 minutes.
“(The short passes were) part of the game plan,” coach Larry Fedora said. “We wanted to give our offensive line a chance and get the ball out quick.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina — the No. 6 team in the country AP — excelled in all phases of the game, jumping out to a 17-0 lead before eventually winning 27-10.
Still, it wasn’t a total loss for UNC’s offense. Clowney wasn’t his dominant self — spending significant minutes on the bench — and as the game wore on, Renner appeared to gain a better handle against the Gamecocks.
“I thought we handled adversity pretty well all night,” Renner said. “We put some drives together, and there are a lot of good things we can take from this game.”
At the start of the second half in particular, UNC was a driving, quick-striking force, storming down the field 67 yards across 17 plays.
Renner unleashed his longest completion of the night in the third play of the drive — a 24-yard pass across the middle to Quinshad Davis, who also scored UNC’s lone touchdown of the game — then proceeded to convert on fourth and one and fourth and 11 as UNC entered the red zone, down just 20-7.
But UNC couldn’t finish what it started, settling for a field goal on fourth and goal, and from there, any hope of a comeback dissolved.
“I don’t want to take credit away from what (South Carolina) accomplished … but we have to execute,” Fedora said. “We have to make better decisions with the ball. We have to block better. We have to run better.”
UNC’s flash of offensive proficiency to start the second half was quickly pushed to the wayside as South Carolina scored on a 75-yard run from tailback Mike Davis. And on the very next drive, Renner hurt himself on a four-yard rush up the middle and was briefly removed from the game in favor of Marquise Williams.
A one-hour, 44-minute lightning delay soon stalled the game with 8:20 remaining in the game.
But for the Tar Heel offense, lightning would never strike.