CHARLOTTE — A somber Will Muschamp said he needs to evaluate his whole football team after South Carolina suffered a stunning 24-20 upset to North Carolina Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
“We just need to go back and evaluate our team at all positions right now and see what we need to do to put our best foot forward,” Muschamp said.
With what Muschamp said was his best team in his four years at South Carolina, the Gamecocks struggled in all phases of the game Saturday. The offense, in its second season under offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon, managed just 270 yards of total offense. Senior quarterback Jake Bentley, under duress all day behind a struggling offensive line, completed just 16 of 30 passes for 142 yards and threw two late interceptions.
The defense, expected to be much improved this season, gave up 483 yards to a North Carolina team that finished 2-9 last season and is rebuilding under new/old head coach Mack Brown.
Most troubling, the Gamecocks led 20-9 late in the third quarter but the Tar Heels rallied behind true freshmen quarterback Sam Howell. After North Carolina took the lead 24-20 with 8:26 remaining, South Carolina had multiple chances to score but gave up two sacks and turned the ball over twice.
Bentley missed a wide open Shi Smith in the end zone with less that two minutes remaining before throwing his second interception and then getting sacked on the game’s final play.
“Extremely disappointed” is how Muschamp described his team’s performance.
“We had the game in hand at 20-9 and we have to take advantage of that situation,” he said. “We gave them life and you can’t do that."
Muschamp was particularly displeased with a defense that played well in the first half, holding North Carolina to two field goals with strong red-zone defense. South Carolina held North Carolina to a field goal again in the third quarter but gave up two 90-plus-yard scoring drives in the fourth quarter to lose the game.
North Carolina, which rushed for 238 yards, ripped off several long runs to set up Howell’s two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
“I am extremely disappointed in the tackling and lack of tackling,” Muschamp said. “There is a lot to improve on, and we certainly will.”
South Carolina scored 10 points on its first two possessions of the game, with transfer running back Tavien Feaster scoring the first touchdown of the season on a 34-yard run. The Gamecocks led 13-6 at the half and went ahead 20-9 in the third quarter on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Bentley to tight end Kyle Markway.
But the Gamecocks managed just 101 yards of total offense in the second half as North Carolina harassed Bentley and shut down the passing game.
“Offensively, I felt like in the first half we moved the ball. We didn’t capitalize on some opportunities we had,” Muschamp said. “We will have to go back and look at the second half and why we weren’t moving the ball better.”
Muschamp was disappointed in the play of both his offensive and defensive lines, which were expected to be the strength of the team. The offensive line gave up three sacks while South Carolina ran for just 128 yards. The defensive line allowed three running backs to break long run after long run in the second half.
“Obviously, that’s not what we wanted and where I thought we were. I thought we were further along and we’re not,” he said.
Muschamp declined to criticize Bentley, who struggled all day and had his second straight poor outing in Charlotte, where South Carolina lost to Virginia 28-0 in last year’s Belk Bowl.
“I want to go back and watch the film before I go making a bunch of comments on the passing game and what we need to improve,” he said. “We had a lot of RPOs set up in this game trying to create some one-on-ones outside and we didn’t hit any one-on-ones outside. We took some shots down the field.”
The Gamecocks now must regroup after starting the season 0-1 against one of the toughest schedules in the country. There is much work to be done, Muschamp said.
“I’m disappointed for our players and our fan base,” he said. “We will find out some things and narrow down some things that obviously we can do better, and that’s what we are going to do.”