Mecole Hardman demonstrates the value of speed and why Georgia offense needs more of it
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Georgia football still missing Mecole Hardman’s speed
It did not take long for Mecole Hardman to make up for his early gaffe. Hardman muffed the first punt of the game, setting up a quick score for the Buffalo Bills and a 9-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive for the Kansas City Chiefs, Hardman took a screen pass and beat the Buffalo defenders to the endzone for Kansas City’s first touchdown.
Our man is 𝙏𝘼𝙆𝙄𝙉𝙂 𝙊𝙁𝙁 🛩 @MecoleHardman4
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) January 25, 2021
Then on the next drive he set-up another Kansas City touchdown with a 50-yard run.
— NFL (@NFL) January 25, 2021
Kansas City recovered from the early 9-0 deficit to win 38-24 and advance to their second-straight Super Bowl. Hardman’s speed is one of the many things that makes the Kansas City offense a nightmare.
Of course, it also helps to have someone even faster in Tyreek Hill as a wide receiver. He finished with nine catches for 172 yards for the Chiefs.
Having the two of them must be like what the Harvard rowing team was like with the Winklevoss twins.
Georgia fans are no stranger to the impact of Hardman’s speed. He famously out-raced the Alabama secondary in the 2018 National Championship game with an 80-yard touchdown catch.
Hardman’s game-breaking ability though serves as a reminder of something Georgia has lacked in each of the past two seasons. The Bulldogs haven’t had that true speed-threat on the outside that changes the geometry of the defense.
Hardman declared early for the 2019 NFL Draft, being taken with the No. 56 pick in the second round. Speed was always Hardman’s most tantalizing attribute and Georgia found ways to incorporate that into the offense.
Georgia signed Hardman as a 5-star player in the 2016 recruiting class. His rare physical gifts, such as a 4.33 40-yard dash, are not easily replicable. Which would explain why Georgia didn’t have a ready-made replacement for him for the 2019 season.
We don’t need to relitigate the 2019 offense, but it so clearly missed Hardman’s speed. Perhaps the best way to illustrate Hardman’s impact was that Georgia fell from No. 8 in the country in yards per attempt to No. 63. That was with a returning quarterback and one of the most talented offensive lines in the country.
Georgia made a number of offensive changes following the 2019 season in a way to boost the passing game. Most notably, it brought in offensive coordinator Todd Monken to reimagine the Georgia offense.
But it also brought in a prospect that had speed similar to that of Hardman in Arian Smith. Georgia beat out Alabama for Smith’s signature in the 2020 recruiting cycle. He was the No. 58 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
He also told DawgNation that the 37-10 SEC championship game defeat to LSU made it very clear how badly Georgia need his speed.
“Just that they needed a fast guy,” Smith told DawgNation. “I’d seen the previous year, they had more success last year than this year. They were missing Mecole Hardman. I figured I can take his spot and turn the offense around.”
Georgia signed four other wide receivers in the 2020 recruiting class, though none possessed Smith’s speed. With a new offense designed to push the ball downfield, Smith seemed like a prime candidate to make an instant impact.
Smith though did not get the start he needed to make a difference for Georgia during the 2020 season. Part of that can be attributed to the rotating door at quarterback and the adjustments that come with playing at the college level.
The wide receiver from Lakeland, Fla., also battled injury in 2020. He had wrist surgery upon prior to his arrival at Georgia over the summer. Then he needed surgery on his meniscus that kept him from seeing the field until November.
By the time Smith caught his first pass, it was the South Carolina game. That was Georgia’s eighth game of the season and it was the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Smith though should way there was so much promise, turning a JT Daniels pass into a 31-yard touchdown.
#Dawgs “JT Daniels, first play of the fourth quarter…Hello! Touchdown!
It’s Arian Smith! Smith looks like he was fired out of a rocket! Either that or a cannon man!”
— GATA Dawgs (@BassinDawg) November 30, 2020
That was one of just two catches on the season for Smith, with the other being a 55-yard reception in the Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati. It’s an incredibly small sample size yes, but Smith showcased why he has the potential to be such an important piece to the Georgia offense.
If he continues to become a bigger part of the offense, Smith won’t just stretch the field vertically. He’ll begin to do it horizontally as well. Georgia saw first hand how players like Jaylen Waddle and Kadarius Toney make it so much harder to fully defend every blade of grass.
Even on fields with the best athletes in the country, elite speed makes a significant difference. The AFC champion Chiefs clearly understand that lesson — along with seemingly every other key to having a great modern offense.
Georgia seems to as well. It had it in Hardman. It could have it again in Smith. It’s why Georgia made a late push to sign an unheard of wide receiver prospect late in the 2021 recruiting cycle in Jimmy Horn. He ultimately picked South Florida, but it shows that Georgia needs more speed on the field in 2021.
Daniels, Monken and the Georgia offense have a lot of toys to play with in 2021. The threat of speed, whether it be from Smith or another potential addition to the Georgia roster, should open things up for the rest of Georgia’s skill players.
Speed also creates big plays. It’s how Hardman was able to erase his early mistake and helped Kansas City get back to the Super Bowl. If Georgia can tap into that, it might not be too long before the Bulldogs are potentially playing for a title as well.
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- Georgia football podcast: One of UGA’s most important championship attributes isn’t getting enough attention
- Alabama announces Bill O’Brien as new offensive coordinator
- BREAKING: 3-star junior LB Donovan Westmoreland commits to Georgia
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