The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: Injuries hit South Carolina hard in season opening loss to North Carolina

The University of North Carolina and the University of South Carolina met at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the 2023 season's opening game. The Tar Heels defeated the Gamecocks 31-17 and now lead the series between the two teams 36-20-4. Redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler was 30-39 with 353 yards in the season opener.

The South Carolina Gamecocks fell to the North Carolina Tar Heels 31-17 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte Saturday after a number of injuries and line issues plagued the team.

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Early exits forced the Gamecocks to lean on its bench. Several of the team's key players, including senior wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr., fifth-year wide receiver Ahmarean Brown, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Cason Henry, and redshirt junior defensive back Mohamed Kaba, left the game hurt. Head coach Shane Beamer had no updates about the players' health status after the game.

The injuries led to some unusual lineups on the field. Redshirt junior quarterback Luke Doty took snaps as wide receiver and caught all three of his targets for 41 yards.

Redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler had a solid outing, going 30-39 for 353 yards with no turnovers or touchdowns. Rattler faced constant pressure from the Tar Heels' defense and rushed out of the pocket 12 times for a net total of -5 yards.

I thought we had an efficient night in the passing game,” Rattler said. "I feel like we were efficient. We were explosive. We just had to finish in the red zone.”

The lack of production from the offensive line hurt the Gamecocks. North Carolina had 16 tackles for loss, while South Carolina’s defense managed just one. North Carolina also sacked Rattler nine times, matching over half of the Tar Heels' 17-sack total from last season.

“(Rattler) gave us a chance (and) played his butt off," Beamer said.  "Can’t allow our quarterback to get hit like that. We’ve got to protect him better.”

Meanwhile, fifth-year wide receiver Xavier Legette had an eventful night in Charlotte, catching nine out of 12 passes for 178 yards and setting a new career high for yards in a game, but his impact did not stop with the offense. On special teams, Legette returned one kick for 28 yards, which led to a one-yard Juju McDowell  touchdown run.

It’s a big moment for me. With Juice (Wells) being down, I’m the only one,” Legette said.

Although its gameplay was inconsistent throughout the night, the Gamecocks did manage to make a few impactful defensive and special teams plays. The second half started off with a Mitch Jeter onside kick, which was then successfully recovered by the senior placekicker. Redshirt junior defensive back O’Donnell Fortune and sophomore defensive back Kajuan Banks caught back-to-back interceptions from North Carolina’s sophomore quarterback Drake Maye late in the game to keep the team's hopes alive.

Unfortunate injuries, lack of depth and an overwhelmed offensive line was South Carolina’s kryptonite in the end, leaving the Gamecocks 0-1 for the first time since 2020, when the team played an all-SEC schedule.

The Gamecocks will attempt to bounce back next week when the team returns to Columbia for a night game against Furman. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted on ESPN+ and SECNetwork+.