Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Smart: Georgia’s starting QB likely a game-time decision

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ATLANTA — Georgia still hasn’t decided on a new starting quarterback, and coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday he Will Likely wait until the season opener to reveal who earned the job.

JT Daniels, a transfer from Southern Cal who was granted permission by the NCAA to play right away, is the most notable contender to take over for three-year starter Jake Fromm.

But Daniels has yet to be fully cleared from a season-ending knee injury sustained in 2019. Redshirt freshman D'Wan Mathis put on an impressive showing with the first team during a scrimmage last weekend at Sanford Stadium, leading to speculation that he’s got the upper hand for the starting spot.

“As far as I can tell, it’s probably going to be a game-time decision,” Smart said.

The No. 4 Bulldogs open the season Sept. 26 at Arkansas.

Smart is used to this sort of quandary. In his first season at Georgia in 2016, senior Grayson Lambert started the opener but freshman Jacob Eason came in early, got the start the following week and held the job the rest of the season.

In 2017, Eason started the opener but was injured, clearing the way for Fromm to take over the job. He led the Bulldogs to the national championship game, prompting Eason to transfer to Washington.

That didn’t end the quarterback debate. Georgia landed another highly rated recruit, Justin Fields, who got some playing time in 2018 but never beat out Fromm. Fields moved on to Ohio State, where he put up much better numbers than Fromm while leading the Buckeyes to the 2019 College Football Playoff.

Now, the Bulldogs have another QB battle on their hands – one that took an unexpected twist two weeks ago when transfer Jamie Newman, who started last year at Wake Forest, opted out of the season because of COVID-19.

“It’s not a problem for me,” Smart said. “It’s getting to be the norm around here. We’ve had it before. It’s not a concern among the staff or the organization or the kids. We talk a lot with the kids about it to make sure they understand where we are.”

Mathis went through a scary ordeal after enrolling at Georgia, requiring brain surgery to remove a cyst. He returned to the scout team late last season and is fully recovered.

“I remember going to see him in the hospital. All his family members were there. It was a scary, scary moment,” Smart said. “But he pushed through that.”

Daniels tore up a knee in the opener of his sophomore season with the Trojans, and Smart revealed that he also needed follow-up surgery late in the year to clean up some additional issues. He is able to practice but can’t have any contact.

“JT is not completely cleared yet,” Smart said. “If we didn’t think he would be cleared (for the opener), we wouldn’t be practicing him.”

Daniels is by far the most experienced of the four quarterbacks on the roster. He was only the second quarterback in Southern Cal history to start the opener as a true freshman and went on to pass for 2,672 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2018.

Mathis has never played in a college game. Neither has freshman Carson Beck.

Junior Stetson Bennett played a handful of snaps last season in a mop-up role behind Fromm, but it looks like the starting job is down to a two-man race between Mathis and Daniels.

Swinney: No. 1 Clemson ready to begin another title run

Ken Ruinard
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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is not sure he has ever been this eager to start a season for the top-ranked Tigers after months of uncertainty due to the global pandemic.

“I’ve seen our culture win the day since March,” Swinney said Tuesday. “This is a very close football team, it’s a well-led team, a very smart team and it’s an exciting team. I can’t wait to see them play and get to do what they love to do.”

The Tigers open the COVID-19-altered season at Wake Forest on Saturday night. The coach believes he has a healthy, confident team that is ready to make a run for a sixth Atlantic Coast Conference crown and sixth trip to the College Football Playoff following the suspension of spring workouts in March and a troubling run of coronavirus cases in mid-to-late June.

“There’s nobody that has to be here,” Swinney said. “But everybody’s here.”

That includes quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and two-time ACC player of the year in tailback Travis Etienne.

“It’s time to play,” Lawrence said.

But the quarterback has also found the time to become a team-leader off the field, speaking out for social justice and the rights of players.

Lawrence posted goals on social media put together by several college players across the nation that call for change, including ensuring teammates are registered to vote and have election day (Nov. 3) “free from athletic obligations” to cast ballots, and using messages and statements on uniforms and helmets to raise awareness of social injustice.

Lawrence and Clemson running back Darien Rencher were leaders in a march last June to protest the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

“I know that there’s a lot of eyes on me. Critics, but also younger generations and people looking up to me,” Lawrence said. “I want to use my platform the right way.”

The QB said none of his off-field actions took away from his mission on improving his game: working on his footwork, reading defenses and throwing accuracy heading into his junior year.

“I think we’re in a really good place,” Lawrence said. “There’s been a lot going on and now, I think we’re in a spot where we can focus a little bit more on football.”

Lawrence is 25-1 as a starter, that loss in perhaps his worst showing in college when he was just 18 of 37 without a touchdown in a 42-25 loss to LSU in the national title game last January.

Lawrence won’t have some of the targets that helped him pass for 36 touchdowns last season. Receiver Tee Higgins left for the NFL while Justyn Ross, who would’ve been a junior this season, is out for the year after spinal fusion surgery.

Higgins and Ross combined for 21 touchdown catches and better than 50% of Lawrence’s 3,665 passing yards from a year ago.

Expect Etienne, who returned for his senior season instead of going pro, to pick up some of that load. Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, also running backs coach, said Etienne has steadily improved his pass catching and can play a bigger role out of the backfield.

Sophomore Joseph Ngata, a starting receiver, said the long, strange offseason gave him and teammates more time to work on themselves.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise in some ways,” he said. “We’ll see it.”

Tigers center Cade Stewart, one of four new starters along the offensive line, has grown antsy with the longer than normal fall camp. Clemson was supposed to open its season last Thursday night at Georgia Tech.

Stewart welcomes the routine of game week because it leads to finally getting back on the field.

“I think everyone’s super excited because that feeling of routine and normality,” he said. “That’s the reason we come here because of the structure.”

Wake Forest star WR Sage Surratt opts out

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Wake Forest all-conference wide receiver Sage Surratt has opted out of the coming season to prepare for the NFL draft amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Surratt announced his decision Wednesday on social media, citing “the many uncertainties and risks associated with COVID-19.” Surratt said he’s set to earn an economics degree in December, saying the school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has “forever transformed my life.”

“My experience at Wake Forest has been extraordinary, and I leave with a humble and grateful heart,” Surratt said.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound redshirt junior made The Associated Press’ All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team last season after hauling in 66 catches for 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns in nine games before going down with an injury. The 1,001 yards were the best for all power-conference receivers at the time of the injury, with four games of at least 150 yards last season.

Surratt’s brother, Chazz, plays linebacker at North Carolina after starting his career as a quarterback and is also an NFL prospect.

UNC team spokesman Jeremy Sharpe says in an email that Chazz Surratt’s status remains unchanged.