Georgia Football: Return of Tray Matthews vs. Clemson Would Be Huge for Bulldogs

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterAugust 27, 2013

Georgia's defense takes on Clemson's potent offense in Death Valley on Saturday night and questions abound for the Bulldogs.

Several stars departed from last year's squad, including Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, John Jenkins and Bacarri Rambo. The injury bug also bit the new-look secondary hard during fall camp.

Game week provided some good news for head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. While speaking at the team's weekly press luncheon (h/t, Richt stated that safety Tray Matthews could be set to return.

The true freshman, who had missed the majority of fall camp with shoulder and hamstring injuries, is one of the Bulldogs' centerpieces in the secondary.

"You've got guys that are going to end up playing safety for us, like Connor (Norman) and Tray (Matthews), if he has no more setbacks," Richt said.

Matthews' presence would be huge for the Bulldogs.

It's not often that a true freshman and early enrollee exits his first spring practice as an unquestioned starter, but that's exactly what Matthews did during spring practice in 2012.

The 6'0", 190-pounder from Newnan, Ga., proved in spring practice that he's solid in pass coverage, but not afraid to stick his nose in and help out against the run.

Against quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and the potent Clemson offense, he'll need to play like a veteran.

Boyd's name has been featured prominently in preseason Heisman rankings after a stellar junior campaign in which the Hampton, Va. native passed for 3,896 yards, tossed 36 touchdowns, rushed for 514 yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns.

Boyd's ability to make things happen through the air and on the ground means that Richt and Grantham need someone they can trust in the back end of the defense.

Despite his short stint between the hedges, Matthews earned that trust.

For all of Boyd's accolades, Clemson's offense is a run-first, power rushing attack out of the spread. Matthews' ability to step up against the run would be huge—especially when Tiger offensive coordinator Chad Morris cranks up the tempo in an effort to create mismatches and get tired defenders out of place.

When that happens, three-yard gains turn into 10-yard gains and Matthews may be the man standing between the ball-carrier and the end zone. It's a good thing Matthews earned that trust this spring.

Will Matthews' health be what puts Georgia over the top and gives them a big road win in the biggest game of Week 1?

His status will be a major factor.

Don't be fooled by Matthews' youth and relative inexperience. He's a big piece of the Bulldog puzzle in 2013 and his potential availability for the opener is more than welcome for a Georgia program that has been searching for some good news on the injury front.