Why Georgia football should start D’Wan Mathis at Arkansas
ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart hasn’t made any declarations on the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback for Arkansas, and he likely won’t until kickoff time on Sept. 26.
But it makes a lot of sense for D’Wan Mathis to get the start when one considers all the variables.
This COVID-19 season is one to be played one quarter at a time, one game at a time, and one quarterback decision at a time.
It’s clear Mathis is the sentimental choice of the fans and players. He’s certainly earned his opportunity after everything he has been through in his return from last year’s brain surgery.
But Smart makes his football decisions based on what gives his program the best chance to win games and championships.
Mathis did his part this past week of practice. Sources say he moved the ball effectively and showed the sort of consistency that was lacking at the beginning of fall camp.
It only made sense Mathis was rusty at the start of August, having not played a meaningful game since his 2018 high school season, and with only limited snaps in the 2019 Georgia G-Day scrimmage under his belt.
But when Smart gave Mathis extended reps with the first team in a semi-public scrimmage at Sanford Stadium last Saturday, word spread.
There was an instantaneous groundswell of support on social media for Mathis from UGA fans who had followed his remarkable comeback.
More importantly, that opportunity to perform in front of a stadium environment proved just what the former Oak Park (Mich.) High School standout needed to regain his confidence.
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Mathis has great athleticism and a big arm, and that should be plenty against the Razorbacks.
Indeed, there’s a reason why Mathis was once committed to Michigan State and Ohio State — programs that combined to win six of the past seven Big Ten Championships.
Mathis, essentially, came to Georgia by way of trade.
Mathis flipped from Ohio State to Georgia in December of 2018 after learning former Buckeyes’ QB Dwayne Haskins was talking with Justin Fields, foreshadowing Fields’ transfer.
The future Bulldog took the leap of faith to sign at UGA, a program he had only visited once, in July of 2017. “An adventure,” he called it.
Fast forward to 2020, where Georgia has adventurous ambitions for its offense to become more explosive and score more points.
The Bulldogs’ plan has been to install Air Raid principles under the direction of former NFL offensive coordinator guru Todd Monken.
Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman had transferred to UGA in January to enhance his NFL draft stock by learning a Pro Style system.
But when Georgia added USC redshirt sophomore JT Daniels in May — a former 5-star who had his pick of transfer destinations — the red flags went up.
Maybe Newman wasn’t going to be the guy, after all.
Newman opted out last month, citing COVID concerns that emerged at the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp.
Daniels appeared to be next in line via his college experience and ability to pilot the Air Raid, which involves multiple reads, calls and progressions before and during each play.
Repetitions and experience are paramount to mastering any sort of scheme, but especially in a Pro Style, where quarterback duties involve real-time game management.
But Daniels’ knee still wasn’t cleared for game action as of last Saturday according to Smart, and the head coach said it could be a game-time decision.
If it’s a game-time decision for an over-matched opponent like Arkansas, is there really a decision to be made at all?
To be clear: If Daniels’ knee is still that close to not being ready at the start of a 10-game SEC league season, UGA’s history of making conservative calls on medical decisions suggests they won’t push the issue.
Toss the keys to Mathis and install a tight game plan, tailor the offense to his skills and focus on the execution.
Playmakers like George Pickens, Zamir White, James Cook, Kearis Jackson and Matt Landers give Mathis plenty to work with.
Besides, with his speed and mobility, Mathis is a playmaker himself, whether it’s scrambling for yardage or buying time to find another option.
With what Georgia has on the defensive side of the ball, the offense doesn’t have to be pretty, just efficient.
If Daniels’ knee is cleared — 100 percent cleared — he remains in play.
But because the situation has been iffy, one has to wonder how many reps Smart could really afford him these past two weeks. The team has to be in sync with whoever is under center.
Indeed, Daniels had limited snaps in the last scrimmage.
It’s important to note freshman Carson Beck is another capable option at quarterback should the situation call for a change up.
But for now, a Mathis fastball down the middle at Arkansas seems like the Bulldogs’ best pitch. Play ball.
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