North Carolina vs South Carolina first look: odds, key matchup, UNC player to watch

UPDATED AUGUST 28, 2023 4:44 PM
The last time North Carolina’s Drake Maye played at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, it was not a good day and one the quarterback does not want to repeat.
The Tar Heels were battered 39-10 by Clemson in the 2022 ACC championship game. Maye, the ACC player of the year, had two interceptions and was sacked four times, and the Heels had a load of other mistakes.
Maye wants to return to the ACC title game in Charlotte again this season — that’s a given. But what he wants first is to start the 2023 season the right way, with a victory over South Carolina on Saturday in his hometown.
The game has all the trappings: ACC versus Southeastern Conference, ESPN GameDay, Hall of Fame coach versus son of Hall of Fame coach, Heisman hype.
Mack Brown, 73, goes into his fifth season in his second run at UNC and has 274 career coaching wins. Shame Beamer, 46, is the son of former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and in his third season as head coach of the Gamecocks, his program headed in the right direction.
A lot of the attention will be on Maye: hometown guy, Heisman Trophy hopeful, 2023 preseason ACC player of the year.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Clayton White, who played at N.C. State and in the NFL, compares Maye to Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills.
“He can throw the ball like most quarterbacks and he can throw it a little better, farther,” White said in a media availability last week. “But his mobility is what makes him really dangerous.”
Not to be overlooked is South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler. The redshirt senior will be in his second year as a starter after his transfer from Oklahoma, passing for 3,026 yards and 18 TDs last season.
The Gamecocks, like the Heels, have a new offensive coordinator in Dowell Loggains, who came to USC from Arkansas. Rattler said he likes the new schemes and approach of Loggains’ offense but didn’t give away any serious intel to the media, leaving UNC guessing.
Beamer said the Gamecocks recently had a 113-play scrimmage and have practiced outdoors on consecutive days, in full pads and with live tackling, in the summer heat of Columbia.
Beamer said the Gamecocks’ motto was “stay in the fight.” That could be true for both the Tar Heels and Gamecocks on Saturday in what could be a hot night and close game.
If Maye has an alter ego on the Tar Heels’ defense, it’s linebacker Cedric Gray. He’s a team captain, three-year starter and led the ACC in tackles last season. Gray could be in the running for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.
Gray spurned a shot at the NFL to complete some “unfinished business” this year at UNC. Along with junior Power Echols, the two ‘backers give the Heels some real thump in the middle of the defense.
Like Maye, Gray is from Charlotte. Like Maye, he’s hoping to play another game at home later this season as a big part of that “business.”
The Heels are loaded with running backs, all eager to play, and Maye rushed for almost 700 yards in 2022. The Gamecocks were 117th nationally in rushing defense (192 yards a game) in 2022 and still have questions on the defensive line going into the 2023 season.
UNC offensive line coach Randy Clements, in his first season with the Heels, wants the O-Line playing to “dent the line of scrimmage and bloody somebody’s nose.” He has experience on the line and a leader in graduate center Corey Gaynor, calling him a “student of the game who loves to compete.”
Maye should get his passing yards Saturday, but an effective running game and more offensive balance by UNC could be the difference in the game — the offense eating up time of possession.
The Gamecocks got an 11th-hour addition to the defensive line when Drew Tuazama, an edge rusher, recently graduated from UAB and transferred to USC. Tuazama, a Raleigh native, played at Knightdale High and Jireh Prep Academy in Matthews, then spent two seasons at Syracuse. After a year at East Mississippi Community College, he played the 2022 season at UAB and led the team in sacks.
Beamer said he expects Tuazama, a graduate student, to play some snaps in the opener as the Gamecocks defensive front will be tested.
Most of the oddsmakers have made the Tar Heels 2.5-point favorites in the opener. The over/under has risen to 64.5 points.

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