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A look back at the Carolinas college football weekend

N.C. State (1-0)

beat Georgia Southern, 24-23

What worked: The halftime speech. The Wolfpack was a mess in the first half. It couldn’t stop the run and it couldn’t get in gear on offense. After the break, and down 17-3 to the Eagles, the Wolfpack started to buckle down against the option run and new quarterback Jacoby Brissett got the offense moving.

Brissett, a transfer from Florida, completed 18 of 23 passes for 213 yards with three touchdowns in the second half to lead the comeback.

Junior running back Shad Thornton was also instrumental getting most of his team-best 73 yards in the second half.

Freshman receiver Bo Hines made eight of his team-high nine catches in the second half and finished with 85 yards.

What didn’t: The defensive ends and linebackers didn’t quite hit all their assignments against the Panthers’ option, which often left quarterback Kevin Ellison (116 rushing yards) free to run.

When Ellison passed, he had success completing nine of 16 attempts for 184 yards and a touchdown.

The Wolfpack offense in the first half, and for some of the third quarter, didn’t have its best players on the field at the same time. It took too long to get Thornton involved and senior receiver Bryan Underwood didn’t have a catch or rushing attempt. Thornton and Underwood, with Hines, need to be on the field together more.

What’s next: N.C. State hosts Old Dominion, another team completing the transition from FCS to FBS. The Monarchs (1-0) opened the season with a 41-28 win against Division II Hampton. ODU’s last trip to the Triangle was an 80-20 loss at North Carolina in November. Kickoff is scheduled at 6 p.m.

Joe Giglio

Duke (1-0)

Beat Elon 52-13

What worked: The Blue Devils scored on eight drives and punted on two until the final drive (which ended on the Elon 3-yard line with 1:02 left). And for a team known for its passing strength but wanting to more emphasis on the run game, the Blue Devils have to be pleased with this balance: 275 yards rushing (6.3 yards per attempt) and 292 yards passing (7.0 yards per attempt, 10.4 yards per completion).

It’s hard to read too much into stats when the level of competition is so uneven, though.

“They’re a more talented football team than we are,” Elon coach Rich Skrosky said. “There’s no question about it.”

What needs work: Overall, holding an opponent to six points is encouraging, but there were periods in the first half where Duke’s defense gave up rushing yards in alarming chunks. The second drive for the Phoenix, which yielded a field goal, featured three runs that gained at least 5 yards. The opponents only get bigger, faster and stronger from here.

In offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery’s first game as the play caller, Duke went 3-for-12 on third down. That was made more bearable by a 5-for-5 fourth-down conversion rate until the last drive.

What’s next: A trip to Troy, Ala., where the Trojans are reeling from a 48-10 smacking courtesy of the Alabama-Birmingham.

Laura Keeley

North Carolina (1-0)

Beat Liberty 56-29

What worked: For about four minutes during the third quarter, everything worked. The Tar Heels scored four touchdowns in a little less than four minutes and turned an uncomfortably close game into a blowout. The defense forced three turnovers in that stretch – two fumbles and an interception linebacker Jeff Schoettmer returned for a touchdown – and the offense capitalized on advantageous field position. The Tar Heels lagged defensively through much of the first half, but that changed in the second. Five of the six turnovers UNC forced came in the second half, and it allowed 106 yards in the final two quarters. Outside of that, the coaching staff got a look at a lot of young players – eight true freshmen played – and the quarterback rotation between Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky worked well enough, thought it also left a lot to be desired.

What needs work: Everything. But coach Larry Fedora used that as a positive on Saturday, saying the Tar Heels’ victory came with a good amount of learning experiences. There were lots of mistakes: the high snap on a punt that led to a safety, the illegal substitution penalty out of a timeout that led to a Liberty touchdown. Decreasing penalties has been a point of emphasis for the Tar Heels but you wouldn’t have known it on Saturday, given they committed 10 of them for 60 yards. Fedora seemed exasperated by that afterward and said, “I can’t tell you how much emphasis we put on getting that cleaned up.” There’s still a lot to work on there. Outside of those dominant four minutes, it was a pretty sloppy effort for UNC.

Up next: UNC hosts San Diego State on Saturday at Kenan Stadium. The Aztecs (1-0) defeated Northern Arizona, a Football Championship Subdivision team, 38-7.

Andrew Carter

Clemson (0-1)

Lost to Georgia, 45-21

What worked: The Tigers kept it close until the final 11 minutes in a loud, hostile environment while replacing departed stars such as quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson threw a 30-yard touchdown pass in the first half, demonstrating his huge potential.

What needs work: The offense was stunningly unproductive in the second half – no points, one first down and 15 net yards. Clemson won’t beat anyone having to punt its last seven possessions, as it did Saturday. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris might have been overly conservative in his play-calling, but the team was constantly starting drives on the edge of its own end zone.

What’s next: The Tigers host South Carolina State at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Rick Bonnell

South Carolina (0-1)

Lost to Texas A&M 52-28 (Thursday)

What worked: Quarterback Dylan Thompson threw four touchdown passes. Thompson’s predecessor, Connor Shaw, set a super-high standard for leadership and toughness, but Thompson has the talent and experience to succeed as an SEC quarterback.

What needs work: The Gamecocks defense could never get off the field. Texas A&M ran 99 offensive plays and five of its scoring drives covered 75 or more yards. The biggest problem was the pass-rush – South Carolina was credited with a single sack among Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill’s 60 passing attempts. He threw for more than 500 yards.

What’s next: The Gamecocks host East Carolina on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Pirates have an explosive offense that could also exploit South Carolina’s pass-rush problems. The Gamecocks hope to have running back Mike Davis, who was limited against Texas A&M by bruised ribs.

R.B.

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