CHARLOTTE — Ernest Jones was all over the Bank of America Stadium field during the first half of South Carolina’s season-opener against North Carolina, and it didn’t take him long to make his presence felt in the second.
On the first play of the second half, after making a team-high eight tackles in the first, the Gamecock linebacker sniffed an opportunity and batted down a Sam Howell pass.
No. 53 batted his chest.
Later in the drive, Jones defended a pass in the back middle of the end zone on a third down to force the Tar Heels into a field-goal attempt.
It was a standout day for the sophomore in the Gamecock (0-1) 24-20 loss to the Tar Heels (1-0). Jones made his first-career start had made a career-high 12 tackles. His previous high was five, which came last year against Chattanooga.
“I don’t think it was good enough,” he said. “I’ve got to do better. I’ve got to bring this team together and this defense together, me being in the middle, and do what I have to do to make more tackles.
“Twelve wasn’t good enough to get us the win, so I’ve got to do more.”
Jones wanted, instead, to talk about how the Gamecocks know they will overcome the tough loss and bounce back next week.
“You can’t really dwell on it now. It’s happened. We’re going to learn from it. We’re going to be a great team. We’re going to be a good team moving forward,” Jones said. “That’s something that probably needed to happen, you know? Well, I guess. We’re going to move forward. We’re going to be good.
“I’m not sure. I guess it humbled us. That’s all I’ve got.”
Continuing the theme from 2018, South Carolina defenders missed numerous tackles on Saturday. North Carolina rushed for 238 yards on 52 carries, a 4.6-yard average, and put together back-to-back touchdown drives of 95 and 98 yards that turned a 20-9 deficit into a 24-20 lead.
“We’ve talked about stopping the run and doing what’s necessary to do that,” Jones said. “We failed at that this game.”
Jones said it doesn’t think they overlooked the Tar Heels, a team that went 2-9 last season, and weren’t caught off guard by any of their schemes.
“I’m going to move forward and get us together,” he said. “As a defense, we’re going to come out better.”
Jones missed eight games last season with a back injury (he played in the season opener and the last four games) and made 16 tackles.
“[Ernest is] a really smart guy,” Gamecock linebacker T.J. Brunson said during training camp. “He watches a lot of film too. He’s pretty big. He’s got some heavy hands. I’m looking forward to watching him make plays. He’s a guy that will fly around and make stuff happen.
“I know he’s excited to get on the field and really play a lot more and make some things shake. Because we’re going to need him to step up. I’m pretty sure he’s more than ready.”