COLUMBIA, SC (TheBigSpur.com) The Head Ball Coach held his first press conference of the regular season on Sunday afternoon, highlighted by talks on the season opener against North Carolina on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
When South Carolina fans look at the depth chart and the starting 11 on each side of the ball on Thursday night, they will see an unknown team in many ways.
Quarterback Connor Mitch, receivers Deebo Samuel and Carlton Heard, defensive linemen Marquavius Lewis andDante Sawyer, and safety Isaiah Johnson are the highlighted players that will make their first start as Gamecocks.
Add to that some positions shifts along the offensive line and a new defensive play caller in co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke and the Gamecocks will have a lot to absorb after one game regardless of the outcome against the Tar Heels.
"We've got to go and kick it off and start playing football and find out what we're all about," Spurrier said. "I'm looking forward to see how we do. We're pretty much an unknown team, unknown at the quarterback position. We believe Connor Mitch will play very well. He just hasn't played yet. We've got some young receivers that haven't played much at all. We believe they are capable."
UNC OFFENSE 'SEASONED' – Older. Experienced. Fast. Seasoned?
The Tar Heels return 10 starters from last season's successful offense. With a senior at quarterback in Marquise Williams, a deep platoon of running backs and a wealth of options at wide receiver, the UNC attack will be the biggest obstacle for the revamped Gamecocks defense to overcome on Thursday.
"Their quarterback has played very well," Spurrier said. "Quinshad Davis is a big-time receiver, and they have been very good on offense the last several years, setting a lot of school records and so forth up there. It'll be a good test for us. We believe we're going to play a lot better defense. Hopefully that will show up once we kick it off up there in Charlotte."
Missed tackle after missed tackle haunted the Gamecocks defense in 2014. Since the turn of the new year, Hoke and the rest of the defensive staff have engrained better tackling and getting leverage into the heads of defenders. Spurrier has seen the tackling improve, but the first benchmark will be the season opener.
"I think our defense will represent South Carolina in a very positive way," Spurrier said. "I think we will fly around, get our hits in, be a better tackling team, be in position. In fact, our defense stopped the offense very often in our little scrimmages [last year], and all of a sudden in [the opening] game we really struggled. So you can't tell."
BORDER RIVAL GAME FEELS NATURAL – The two Carolina schools will meet just about halfway come Thursday night in Charlotte for a game that Spurrier called a "natural game" and one that really reaches back to the days when South Carolina was in the ACC with North Carolina.
"They are our border state," Spurrier said. "It used to be a big game back when both were in the ACC. We're not now so we don't play each other every year. I think the fans like a game against somebody close by."
The Gamecocks are 18-34-4 in the all-time series against the Tar Heels, having won the last two matchups (2007 and 2013).
"Think it'll be a good game, should be some interest," Spurrier said. "We play a lot of out-of-conference games that have a big interest. Certainly our Clemson game draws a big interest and even when we play the other in-state schools, they get fired up coming up in here – Wofford, Citadel, South Carolina State, Coastal Carolina – so I would say there's some big interest in all these games."
DAVIDSON OUT FOR SEASON – Redshirt freshman wide receiver Shaq Davidson suffered a big blow last week in practice and injured his knee to the extent of needing season-ending surgery.
The extent or official prognosis of the injury has not yet been released, but Spurrier did say that Davidson would sit out this season and take a medical redshirt.
"Yeah, Shaq had surgery on a knee that he had torn a ligament, and he's scheduled to have surgery on his other knee in about six weeks," Spurrier said. "It had been bothering him also. So Shaq needs a whole year to get his knees ready to play for next year. He'll have his second redshirt year this year."
Davidson entered the preseason third on the depth chart behind Deebo Samuel andShamier Jeffery at the X receiver position.
Out of Gaffney High School, Davidson was a four-star recruit by 247Sports Composite and ranked the fifth best player in the state for the 2014 signing class.