In My Opinion

Fowler: Lightning quick scores give Gamecocks edge

August 29, 2013 

— There was no identity crisis this time. The true “Carolina” was the one from the South, as South Carolina dominated North Carolina 27-10 in both teams’ college football season opener.

Even with a winded Jadeveon Clowney getting shut out on sacks and being involved in few plays of any consequence, the Gamecocks had more than enough to whip the Tar Heels.

About the only thing to slow down the Gamecocks was a fierce lightning storm that cleared the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium and caused the game to be delayed 1 hour, 44 minutes with 8:20 to go in the fourth quarter.

The Gamecocks led by the ultimate final score of 27-10 when the weather delay began at 8:46 p.m. The game didn’t resume until 10:30, putting a literal damper on the evening.

The game had started with 81,572 screaming fans and ended with about a tenth of that. But except for the white streaks of lightning, it was a garnet-and-black night in Columbia.

There also were some fireworks during the final 10 seconds. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had the Gamecocks throwing deep from their own 2 instead of running out the clock, which just made him look bad.

Spurrier later said he wanted to get freshman wide receiver Pharoh Cooper a catch because Cooper was from North Carolina but Cooper ran the wrong route.

Then North Carolina coach Larry Fedora called a timeout with five seconds left. Spurrier then called a timeout – he said he considered throwing to Cooper again on fourth down with five seconds left – before punting on the final play.

The teams will play again Sept.5, 2015, in Charlotte, and maybe by then the Tar Heels will look like they are ready to start a football game at the proper pace.

They certainly weren’t ready to start Thursday. The Gamecocks led 7-0 after 79 seconds and 17-0 before the first quarter was over.

Because of the overwrought hype surrounding South Carolina defensive end Clowney, the likely No.1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, it’s easy to forget the Gamecocks bulge with excellent players. They finished the 2011 and 2012 seasons among the national top 10 and started this year at No.6.

Clowney was quiet Thursday and admitted he was tired. His presence obviously affected a Tar Heels offense that seemed to have a goal of throwing at least 20 screen passes.

The Gamecocks outgained North Carolina by a shocking 203-35 during the first quarter, with two quarterbacks throwing for touchdowns on their very first passes and South Carolina’s offensive line bulldozing the smaller Tar Heels defensive line. Connor Shaw’s 65-yarder opened the scoring, and Shaw was efficient and mostly mistake-free after that.

After a relatively even second quarter, the decisive blow came during the third when South Carolina running back Mike Davis blasted 75 yards for a score around right end to put the Gamecocks ahead 27-10. The Tar Heels had taken 17 plays to get only a field goal on the preceding drive, so that Davis sprint was a backbreaker.

The 27-10 score remained on the scoreboard when lightning approached the area and officials wisely cleared the stands. It was an unusual scene – the South Carolina band cut across the field in a haphazard diagonal to get to the exits faster.

Fans streamed out and most just kept on going to their cars.

Still, once the rain and lightning cleared out, this fact remained: Both teams call themselves “Carolina” in their home state, but it was clear Thursday night which one deserved that honor on a national stage.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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