COLUMBIA, S.C. — Remember when Mecole Hardman played defensive back for Georgia?
Yeah, I can’t either.
The junior wide receiver continued on Saturday a period of dominant play that extends back to the SEC Championship Game of last season. Against the No. 24-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks, Hardman went over 100 yards receiving for the first time in his two-year career as a college wideout. Hardman caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Jake Fromm in the third quarter that seemed to break South Carolina’s will. He also had a 30-yarder in the first quarter to set up Georgia’s first offensive touchdown and nearly broke another long gain when he was taken down by a shoe-string tackle late in the third quarter.
Hardman had 103 yards on 6 receptions and 133 yards total offense when he left the game for good in the third quarter. The converted cornerback also had a 59-yard touchdown catch in Georgia’s opener last week against Austin Peay.
“Mecole, every time we come to the sideline he’s always begging for the ball. ‘I’m open on this’ and ‘I’m open on that,'” Fromm said with a laugh. “He’s a great football player and a guy who’s really special with the ball in his hands. As long as we find ways to get the ball to him, we’ll be all right.”
Saturday represented the fourth time in Georgia’s last five game that the junior flanker has had two or more catches in a game. Hardman had an 80-yard touchdown catch against Alabama in the National Championship Game to end last season and had four receptions for 67 yards in the win over Auburn in the SEC Championship game. He finished the season with 25 catches for 418 yards and three TDs.
“I’ve got pretty good acceleration, I’d say,” Hardman said. “I just try to trust my speed and try to hit it any time I get the ball.”
Hardman actually played quarterback at Elbert County High School but signed with Georgia as a 5-star prospect to play cornerback in 2016. Hardman played in 11 games on defense that season with no starts. The Bulldogs switched him to receiver in the 2016 postseason.
Hardman also led the SEC punt returns last season. But he appears to have deferred that duty to fellow flanker Ahkil Crumpton, who handled all the returns Saturday.
A close second to Hardman in the battle for DawgNation’s Game Ball was cornerback Deandre Baker, who had a great day defending South Carolina’s star receiver Deebo Samuel. Baker had a 55-yard interception return, 2 pass break-ups and 6 tackles while the fourth quarter was still being played.
Other Georgia players up for consideration Saturday were quarterback Jake Fromm (15-of-18, 194 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int) and place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship (2 FGs, all touchbacks).