The Daily Gamecock

Preview: South Carolina football kicks off 2023 season against North Carolina

The South Carolina football team kicks off its 2023 season on Saturday in a “Battle of the Carolinas” matchup against No. 21 North Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The matchup between the neighboring state schools is the first since the 2021 Duke's Mayo Bowl, when the Gamecocks pulled out a 38-21 victory in the same facility, though the Tar Heels lead the all-time series 35-20-4.

“I've definitely still got the excited feeling, like a kid in a candy shop,” sixth-year running back Dakereon Joyner said. “I'm ready to go, I'm excited for the first game."

In his time as at South Carolina, Joyner has demonstrating versatility by moving from quarterback to wide receiver and now to running back. Alongside Joyner in Gamecocks' backfield will be redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler, who averaged 232.8 passing yards per game and threw for 18 touchdowns a season ago but said he feels a lot more confident headed into this year with new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.

“Just more comfortable with this offense, I feel like it suits me a lot better — not just me but the group as a whole," Rattler said.

On the other sideline, North Carolina is led by fifth-year head coach Mack Brown and star redshirt sophomore quarterback Drake Maye. Maye, who completed 66.2% of his passes for 4,321 yards and threw 38 touchdowns with just seven interceptions in 2022, will be pose a major test for South Carolina's defense early on in the season.

“A fantastic offense led by Drake Maye. (He) will be a high draft pick in the NFL draft when he decides to go to the NFL,” head coach Shane Beamer said. “Talented thrower, unbelievable runner, he's a great athlete with great size and will be a big challenge for our defense."

If Brown does choose to take the ball out of Maye's hands during the game, the Tar Heels' run game is strong in its own right. The running back duo of sophomore Omarion Hampton and junior Elijah Green return after combining for 14 rushing scores in 2022, and they are joined by graduate back British Brooks who missed last season due to injury but ran for 74 yards and a touchdown in the 2021 bowl game.

South Carolina redshirt junior defensive tackle Alex Huntley is among a veteran defensive line group tasking with stopping Maye and the North Carolina offense from getting hot on Saturday. Huntley finished last season with 21 tackles, 12 solo and one sack.

“They have a good offense, a great quarterback (and) great running back room. So (the) game plan (is) doing what we do, sticking to our goals and just trusting everybody on the team, holding each other accountable and knowing we can all get the job done,” Huntley said.


Behind Huntley, sophomore linebacker Stone Blanton will be starting the first game of his Gamecock career after logging time in all but one game in 2022. He said that he spent the offseason familiarizing himself with South Carolina's defense, which allowed him the confidence to earn a spot in the starting lineup over more experienced players.

"Last year was just all about confidence. I didn't have very much last year (and) was still learning the defense," Blanton said. "I was definitely not where I wanted to be physically either, so to have this offseason to train and prepare for this season, it's been a good transition. And I'm able to learn the defense a lot better (and) know the guys a lot better, so I have a lot more confidence out there."

“We're just trying to perfect what we got working for us — make sure we don't beat ourselves. They're going to try to do some things to slow us down, and we've got to do our best to counter that," Rattler said. "We've been practicing everything and just trying to perfect it before Saturday.”

The Gamecocks and Tar Heels will kickoff under the Bank of America Stadium lights at 7:30 p.m., and the game will air on ABC. Ahead of the matchup, ESPN's College GameDay will be at Romare Bearden Park in uptown Charlotte starting at 9 a.m. with gates opening at 6:30 a.m.