COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Big plays on offense for No. 6 South Carolina? That’s not what was supposed to happen with a defense led by All-American Jadeveon Clowney.
Instead, it was a 75-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis and two long scoring passes from quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson that lifted the Gamecocks to a 27-10 victory over North Carolina on Thursday night.
The win was Steve Spurrier’s 21st straight opening victory dating to his first year at Florida in 1990 — and Spurrier won’t put this one in the trophy case even if it did go in the win column. The coach knows things will have to get better before next week when the Gamecocks face off with No. 5 Georgia to start Southeastern Conference play.
“We can win some ugly-looking games,” Spurrier said. “We beat Vandy in one (last year). Hopefully, we can improve and get ready for Georgia because that’s going to be a big one.”
Spurrier hopes he can get some more big plays out of his offense — and get Clowney and the defense to chip in, too.
Clowney shook off a stomach virus earlier in the week and some sluggish play during the game to help South Carolina’s defense hold North Carolina to its lowest point total in coach Larry Fedora’s two seasons.
Clowney, winded several times during the hot, humid night, wasn’t worried about his conditioning and vowed it would not linger throughout the year.
“Hats off to my defense,” Clowney said. “As long as we get the win, that’s all that matters to me.”
Clowney did not have a sack and finished with three first-half tackles. The Tar Heels’ fast-paced offense wore him down and forced him to the sideline for several pit stops, yet he and the defense mostly hemmed in North Carolina. Shaw and Thompson put South Carolina up 17-0 in the opening quarter.
Shaw found Shaq Roland for a 65-yard touchdown on the game’s third play. Thompson threw a 29-yard TD to Kane Whitehurst later in the quarter.
The game was delayed with 8:20 left when lightning closed in on the stadium. Fans filed out quickly and hit their cars as heavy rain and thunder pelted the field for about an hour.
It’s been a steady stream of chatter about all things Clowney in the eight months since he knocked the helmet off a Michigan runner in the Outback Bowl. Should he sit out the year and protect his draft status as next year’s No. 1 pick? How much insurance should he take out? (He has $5 million worth.) Can he become the first defense-only player to win the Heisman Trophy?
If he makes it to New York for the Heisman presentation in December, he likely won’t have this game on his highlight reel.
“Everybody always expects a lot from JD. He expects a lot from himself,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “I told him he might have to watch what he’s eating if his energy’s down. We have to make sure we can play more than three, four, five plays at a time.”
Clowney laughed off the expectations and promised things would improve.
“First game of the season,” he said. “It’s going to get better. Week after week, it’s going to get better and better.”
North Carolina continually played away from Clowney’s side with short passes and quick runs. When the Tar Heels did come his way, left tackle James Hurst — an all-ACC player with NFL hopes of his own — did a solid job keeping No. 7 in check.
Clowney didn’t agree, saying it was more North Carolina’s tempo than Hurst’s blocking that got to him.
“I wasn’t really impressed like I was against the guy from Michigan,” Clowney said, referring to the Wolverines’ Taylor Lewan.
There was a scary moment once play resumed after the rain delay when Clowney was cut from behind by backup offensive lineman Kiaro Holts, who was called for clipping. Clowney quickly got up and went to the sidelines. He said he wasn’t worried about it.
Fedora said the offense didn’t change much to deal with Clowney.
“I didn’t really think he was a huge factor,” the coach said. “There were other guys I thought made some plays that could have been because we were overly concerned with him.”
South Carolina’s Davis finished with 115 yards on 12 carries. Shaw was 11 for 19 passing for 149 yards and his touchdown.