Game Day: Five Questions for UNC-South Carolina
Given the hype building around the Gamecock defensive lineman it doesn’t seem likely. He has gone from incredible talent who will probably be the #1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to some combination of Bane, Ivan Drago and a Rancor. In fact there is a good chance Clowney might maim or kill multiple Tar Heels before by halftime. At least that is the impression you get from watching ESPN or reading Twitter.
In all seriousness, Clowney is going to be an issue for UNC especially given the offensive line had to be rebuilt from last season. As a sophomore Clowney had thirteen sacks which is to say he is going to make his share of plays. The challenge for UNC will be containing those to some extent and making sure his teammates don’t capitalize off the attention Clowney attracts.
2. How will UNC’s offensive line hold up?
One of the bigger question marks coming into the season would be how the Tar Heel offensive line would perform. James Hurst, a preseason All-ACC pick, will anchor the line and be primarily responsible for dealing with the aforementioned Clowney. Russell Bodine and Landon Turner, like Hurst, are experienced. Beyond those three there is the inexperienced Caleb Petersen and a battle between three players at right tackle.
And there is no easy FCS opponent to work out the kinks. The Tar Heel offensive line will be tested and depending on how they handle that test could set the tone for this unit going forward.
3. Ready for your close-up Mr. Renner?
Obviously, Bryn Renner is a known commodity of sorts. He is in his third season as a starter and stands on the precipice breaking multiple school passing records. However, with the Tar Heels facing a top ten team, regardless of the final result, Renner has an opportunity to really impress the college football world.
Last season it was clear Renner was making an adjustment to Larry Fedora’s offense. Towards the end of the season he appeared to really click in. Renner passed for over 300 yards in each of the final four games of the 2012 season and threw for 13 TDs versus just two INTs. UNC went 3-1 in those game and averaged 40 points per contest.
Renner will look to pick up with that pace to start this season with plenty of motivation for personal and team success alike.
For all the talk about Clowney and the Gamecock defense, it should be noted that UNC has a fairly powerful offense. Yes, there are questions about the offensive line and concerns when it comes to replacing Gio Bernard in the backfield. However, Bryn Renner is quite good and has a pair of targets in WR Quinshad Davis and TE Eric Ebron.
This is also an offense that plays very fast which has two important effects. One it keeps defenses from making necessary adjustments with substitutions. Secondly, fatigue could become an issue for the Gamecocks. Much like UNC basketball and Roy Williams’ up-tempo offense, opposing teams try to simulate but still can’t quite prepare for it. They may think their conditioning is sufficient and they have a grasp at how quickly the pace of play happens until the actual game. The reality often catches teams off guard.
If UNC can gain some sort of advantage with the pace of play, it could offset what South Carolina can do, maybe even slow Mr. Clowney down some.
5. Can UNC break through and in turn strike a blow for the ACC?
It has become an annual ritual. The ACC schedules big games against SEC/Big 12/B1G teams and in most cases come up short. That leads to the festival of ACC bashing by the national media and the continuation of the “ACC sucks” narrative. The only way to stop it from happening is actually win these marquee games which is something that has been rare.
The question is can UNC get that kind of win? Conventional wisdom and my own jaded view of UNC football says it won’t. The last time UNC beat a top ten team on the road was almost 50 years ago. There are too many questions for UNC to think they can waltz into Columbia, SC and shock the world. But if they could, it would be nice bump for the Tar Heel football program and the ACC in general given the national TV exposure.