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Turner's Take: The Measuring Stick

Turner's Take: The Measuring Stick

By Turner Walston

It’s hard not to get ahead of ourselves. It’s hard to pump the brakes, to remember that this is just year two of Tar Heel football under Larry Fedora, that it’s going to take time to fully implement the schemes that he believes will win a lot of big football games. The extreme makeover is still underway.

And so when Fedora addressed the media following Carolina’s 27-10 loss at South Carolina on Thursday, he said the game had been a “measuring stick” for his program. On the road, at the home of Steve Spurrier and his sixth-ranked Gamecocks, on a Thursday night to kick off the 2013 college football season, the Tar Heels were provided with a true test. Carolina didn’t come out of Thursday’s game with a win, but they certainly have something to build on.

Blake Anderson and the Tar Heel offense tailored their game plan to try to limit the impact of the South Carolina defensive front. Carolina employed a lot of screen passes to get the ball outside. “We wanted to give our offensive line a chance and get the ball out quick, try to get the ball spread out and make some plays out in the open field instead of pushing it down the field as much,” Fedora said. But give credit to the Gamecock defenders - they often sniffed out those plays. In fact, though he finished 26-43 for 194 yards, three of Renner’s completions went for a combined -7 yards. 

Defensively, the ghost of the 2012 season reared its head at times, as the Carolina defense gave up five big plays (runs of 15 or more yards, passes of 20 or more yards), including touchdowns of 65 and 75 yards early in each half. Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw was elusive in and out of the pocket, and tailbacks Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds gashed the Tar Heel defenders. “We’re a good team; (but) we made a lot of mistakes,” defensive end Kareem Martin said after the game. “We feel like it was more so things that we did more than they did. I think going forward, after watching this film, we’re definitely going to improve as a team from week to week.”

Certainly South Carolina is due credit for dictating the pace of play and running their game plan to perfection. But there were occasions when the Tar Heels shot themselves in the foot. T.J. Thorpe’s fumble on a punt return after a key defensive stop kept momentum from perhaps swinging toward the visitors’ sideline. Settling for a field goal attempt after having 1st and goal from the six kept the Heels at an arm’s length. Kiaro Holts’ illegal block penalty cost the Tar Heels 15 yards after the weather delay. “We really had some bad moments in critical times,” left tackle James Hurst said. “Twice, we got down in the red zone and came away with nothing, which is big. You can’t have that against a good team like that, so we’re got to improve our red zone efficiency, no doubt.”

Correct those things, maximize those opportunities, and the Tar Heels will become a formidable college football team. Despite the score Thursday, there was something to build on.

“We protected the football. We didn’t turn the ball over. We made good decisions,” Renner said. “We almost had a miscue on a handoff, but we got it back. We did get in the red zone a couple of times. If we score there, it’s a different ball game, but we can’t dwell on that. We have to look at the positives.”

There were positives. By and large, the Tar Heel offensive line kept Renner on his feet (the Gamecocks had one sack). Jadeveon Clowney was limited to three tackles, all in the first half. Rookie wideouts Bug Howard and Ryan Switzer combined for 47 yards on five catches. Darius Lipford and T.J. Thorpe contributed for the first time since the 2011 season. Against what is likely the most intimidating opponent the Tar Heels will face this season, they never backed down.

“We’ve still got a long way to go, a lot of work to do,” Fedora said. “We’re in year two, and I wish we were further along than we are, but we’re not. It was a good measuring stick for us. I didn’t look at tonight and say, ‘Gosh, we’re so far away we’ll never make it.’ That’s not the way I’m coming out of the game. I just don’t think we’re that far away, we just we’ve got to execute.”

The Gamecocks were the better team on Thursday. The Tar Heels? Well, they aren’t there yet, but  as Fedora said, they’re not that far away.

Follow Turner Walston on Twitter.