Tray Matthews unburdens himself.
Matthews was still able to make the start at Clemson, making four tackles and assisting on four more. But he didn’t feel like himself, saying he was playing “scared,” both because of the injury and the first-game jitters.
“Going out there I was hyped, I was tensing up. I was like, it’s my first game I don’t wanna mess up on TV. That’s kind of the reason I don’t think I played as fast as I can,” Matthews said. “I don’t want to mess up. I’m on the big screen, if I mess up they’ll be like: Dang, Tray Matthews did this, he did that. But now I’ve made my mistakes, I’m ready to go out and play my game.”
Indeed, he felt more comfortable the next week against South Carolina. But he was actually less productive, at least on paper, only recording four tackles, all assists.
Head coach Mark Richt said the preseason injuries “definitely set him back,” particularly a player who likes to hit hard and make big plays.
“Getting hurt when he got hurt was tough. There was a lot of time he missed,” Richt said. “I think it definitely slowed down his progression.”
Another thing slowing Matthews down, or at least in the back of his mind, are the new targeting rules. He hasn’t been flagged for anything yet, but he’s aware of what could happen, whether it be a 15-yard penalty or even an ejection.
“I can’t hit like I used to, or like I want to. Now I have to lower my target,” Matthews said. “When you’re reacting to somebody catching the ball, you’re not thinking about getting low or doing all this. You’re just thinking about hitting them. And my first target was the head and the neck-chest area. Now I don’t know if I’ll be able to make that (hitting) impact I used to make, but hopefully I can still.”
That’s a lot of thinking going on there. (And with regard to targeting, it’s something I worried about a month ago when I read this.) There’s no way that can’t be having an effect on playing speed.
Matthews is far from alone with regard to that.
The 6-foot-1, 229-pound Carter, who enrolled early and took part in spring practice, is still getting comfortable in the system. Just like fellow freshmen inside linebackers Tim Kimbrough, Johnny O’Neal and Ryne Rankin.
“The checks, the adjustment,” Carter said. “That’s one thing Amarlo and Ramik are good at. They see it and [snaps his fingers] and it clicks. With us, we see it, know it, it’s on the tip of our tongue and then we need to get it out. We just need to spit it out faster so we can get everybody lined up.”
Is it any wonder we’re seeing misalignment and bad pursuit angles? I get the sentiment here – “He can play,” Herrera said… “They’ve just got to put him in.” – but that’s the approach that gets you burned by good, experienced offenses. Like Clemson and South Carolina, to name a couple. The coaches know they’ve got to develop some depth behind Herrera and Wilson because they’re wearing down at the end of games. (Herrera sucking it up to make one last stop on the goal line against South Carolina may be the best effort play of the season.) But how much time can you give a kid who is still uncertain about where to line up? And they really don’t have that luxury in the secondary. Matthews has to play.
Best thing that can happen for this defense right now is a big third quarter lead against North Texas on Saturday.