Freshman safety Tray Matthews, a likely starter in the rebuilt Georgia secondary, has been medically cleared to play against Clemson after missing most of fall camp with a hamstring injury.
“The hardest part about that is that the tempo that we’re going right now isn’t a real good indicator of how he can run out, how he can burst full speed,” Richt said. “Can he do it for an entire ballgame? That’s the part that’s difficult to gauge right now and we don’t want to test it because the more days he’ll have under his belt, the more he’ll heal. We just didn’t want any setbacks.”
A consensus 4-star recruit (and top-100 player) coming out of high school, Matthews enrolled early and quickly began running with the first-team this spring. He impressed with his range in the deep third, making him a likely candidate to start in his first year.
But nagging injuries have kept him out for most of the preseason, casting doubt upon his availability for the Clemson game. So despite concerns about his endurance or fitness, and especially with South Carolina looming next week, the mere fact that he's available is welcome news in Athens.
Who will win on Saturday?
Even if he’s not at full speed (which he won’t be), Georgia will need at least something from Matthews come Saturday. It's facing an elite pass offense—led by All-American candidates QB Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins—in Clemson, and it’s already without suspended safety Josh Harvey-Clemons.
Running in Harvey-Clemons' place—ostensibly next to Matthews—will be Connor Norman, a senior who started two games in 2012 but is considered a marked talent downgrade.
Against Clemson's passing attack, which finished 13th in yards per game and second in Football Outsiders' S&P Rankings last year, that less-than-full-strength safety duo could spell trouble.
Unless, of course, Matthews soaks up the adrenaline and manages to go full speed.