Auburn safety Tray Matthews was itching to get in the game against his former team Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but the Georgia transfer didn’t have clearance from the trainers.
The redshirt sophomore is still dealing with an ankle injury that forced him to sit out against Texas A&M.
“There’s no doubt Tray wanted to go play,” Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said, Sunday night. “He’s a competitive young man, he’s a good football player. Again, our medical staff does a fantastic job and they didn’t feel like he was totally ready to go in the game, was very limited the last two weeks practicing.”
Muschamp turned to Stephen Roberts, a sophomore out of Opelika, to replace Matthews in the starting lineup. Roberts was the 13th first-time starter for the Tigers’ defense this season.
“He really played well,” Muschamp said. “I’ve been very, very pleased with Stephen’s play. He made a couple critical tackles in the open field, but I was very pleased with his play.”
Roberts’ seven tackles almost matched his career total, eight, and five of them were solo tackles.
The safety impressed coaches last week stepping in for Matthews’ original replacement Jeremiah Dinson against the Aggies. Roberts and Nick Ruffin rotated at the position throughout the second half.
When Dinson was ruled out for the season following the 26-10, Roberts was in position to get the added reps thanks to extra work he put in outside of practice in recent weeks.
Roberts worked with one of Auburn’s secondary graduate assistants Blake Gideon to watch film, and study film. Muschamp used Roberts’ dedication as a message for the rest of the defense.
“It just doesn’t happen overnight,” Muschamp said. “You can’t just always get it in the position meetings we require you; I always tell the guys that the really good players I’ve been around, what did you do outside the building? Were you in the building when you didn’t have to be? That’s something that Stephen’s made a commitment to, and that certainly has shown in his play.”
Matthews could return this weekend against Idaho, but he is still feeling pain in his ankle when he changes direction. If the injury lingers, Roberts is in line to remain in the starting lineup.