As the 2023 college football season kicks off this weekend, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks are facing off against the No. 20/21 North Carolina Tar Heels – with all eyes glued on preseason All-American quarterback Drake Maye.
Maye, 20, of Huntersville, N.C. is the projected number three overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate following his breakout 2022 season with the Tar Heels.
A 6-foot-4, 230-pound redshirt sophomore, Maye lead the Tar Heels with 38 touchdowns and 4,321 passing yards a year ago – lifting his team to a 9-5 overall record and an appearance in the 2022 ACC championship game. He also ran for 698 yards and another seven touchdowns.
With the exception of a brief appearance against South Carolina in the 2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl, though, Maye has never faced a Southeastern Conference defense. His team also went 0-2 last year against the two ranked opponents it faced, Oregon and Clemson.
How will Maye fare in his first career start against an SEC opponent?
North Carolina head coach Mack Brown said in a press conference with Tar Heel Illustrated that the first quarter between the Gamecocks and Tar Heels will mainly be figuring out how both teams play offensively and defensively.
“They’ve done a really good job, especially with trick plays on their special teams,” Brown said of the Gamecocks. “What it does, it keeps you from being as aggressive as you want because you’ve got them all over the place.”
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South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer said the Gamecocks’ plan to offensively detain the Tar Heels involved keeping Maye off the field as much as possible for the duration of the game.
“Certainly just trying to let our guys get out there and play fast, and get our best players on the field, and then being able to run the ball and throw the ball both when we have to,” said Beamer in an August 29 press conference.
The more first downs South Carolina can amass, the longer Maye will be forced to watch from the sidelines.
Helping the Gamecocks on that front will be the return of top wide receiver Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr., who has been cleared from a preseason injury. Wells led the Gamecocks with 928 receiving yards last season and is expected to provide a consistent target for starting quarterback, Spencer Rattler.
Rattler, 22, transferred to South Carolina ahead of last season – registering 18 passing touchdowns and 3,026 yards through the air during his first campaign with the Gamecocks. A former Heisman contender himself, Rattler, will play a key role in taking on North Carolina’s defense – which finished last season with 17 sacks, nine interceptions and five fumble recoveries.
North Carolina enjoys a 35-20-4 all time record against South Carolina – including a 24-20 victory in the season opener in 2019 in Charlotte. The Gamecocks have won seven of the last ten, however.
The season opener for both teams is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. EST this Saturday (September 2, 2023) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The game will be televised nationally on ABC with Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Greg McElroy (analyst), and Molly McGrath (sidelines) calling the action.
Oddsmakers have installed Tar Heels as 2.5-point favorites over the Gamecocks with the over/under set at 64.5.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Erin Parrott is a Greenville, S.C. native who graduated from J. L. Mann High School in 2021. She is currently a junior at the University of South Carolina majoring in broadcast journalism. Got feedback or a tip for Erin? Email her here.
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