Tray Matthews meant no disrespect to North Texas when he said Wednesday he’s glad they’re not a top-10 team.
Georgia’s freshman safety already has faced more of those than any other free safety in America this season, and he has played only two games in his career. Matthews started the Bulldogs’ opener against then-No. 8 Clemson at Memorial Stadium and followed that with a start against No. 6 South Carolina.
Not coincidentally, there was a 75-yard run in one game and a 77-yard pass play in the other.
“It’s hard coming in and playing top-10 teams already,” said Matthews, speaking to the media for the first time in seven months. “So it was kind of crazy for me.”
It hasn’t helped that Matthews missed almost three weeks of full-speed preparation before those games. Matthews sprained his right shoulder the first week of preseason camp, then strained a hamstring as soon as he came back. He still felts the effects of the hamstring pull in the 38-35 loss to Clemson, but said he was close to 100 percent in the 41-30 win over South Carolina.
Now after an off week, he said he’s “completely healed” for Saturday’s home game against the Mean Green (2-1).
Against the Tigers, Matthews was unable to run down All-American receiver Sammy Watkins on a 77-yard touchdown catch that should have been a short first-down gain. Against the Gamecocks, both Matthews and fellow first-year starter Josh Harvey-Clemons took bad angles on the right flank and let tailback Mike Davis get outside for a 75-yard run on a counter play.
There have been other breakdowns that were less noticeable and less costly, but Matthews said each serves as a valuable lesson.
“I’m excited about playing great players like that,” Matthews said. “I’m playing them early in my career. I can only get better every game. I just have to learn from my mistakes. I’d rather that happen now than later in my career.”
Of course, the missed time didn’t help.
“It definitely set him back,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “… Getting hurt when he got hurt was tough. I think it definitely slowed down his progression.”
Matthews’ progress was trending off the charts in the spring. Coaches and teammates were spewing praise for the 6-foot, 214-pounder’s jarring hits and extraordinary athletic plays. So certain were the Bulldogs of his abilities that they named him the starter halfway through spring drills.
But then the injuries came, and Matthews is trying to make up for lost time. He said he’s looking at video every night at home and every morning at the football complex.
He’s also working full time on keeping up his confidence. Daily talks with his father have been enhanced by regular text messages from former Bulldogs such as Sean Jones, Thomas Davis and Rennie Curran.
“They’re just trying to keep me up,” he said. “They know how I’m feeling. They say coming in as a freshman, ‘that’s a tough job for you.’ But they say, ‘you wouldn’t be in this position if they didn’t think you could do it.’ God’s not going to give you more than you can handle.”
In the end, Matthews believes this indoctrination of fire is going to serve him well.
“My time is going to come,” he said.
Former Dogs collide: A pair of former Georgia players will face off as starting quarterbacks for opposing teams this weekend when Auburn and LSU play in Baton Rouge. Senior Zach Mettenberger plays for LSU while junior Nick Marshall calls signals at Auburn.
Richt said he’ll definitely watch Saturday’s 7:45 p.m. broadcast. The Bulldogs play at 12:21 p.m.
“It will be very interesting to watch because I know both of those guys, of course, and we’re going to end up playing both of those teams as well,” he said. “I like both of them very much.”
Georgia, which dismissed both players for disciplinary reasons, will face both this season. Richt said that doesn’t trouble him.
“I believe in stories of redemption and guys turning it around,” he said. “I wished they’d have turned it around at Georgia, but sometimes it happens at another school. That’s fine with me. I realize that those kind of comeback stories happen, and I’m real happy for these guys. I want all the guys that we sign to realize their dreams.”
Etc.: Junior receiver Jonathan Rumph aggravated a hamstring injury and likely won’t play Saturday, Richt said. The junior college transfer hasn’t played this season. … The Bulldogs conducted a 75-minute workout in shorts Wednesday in their first of two consecutive days of “dress rehearsal” practices.