JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One of the elements missing in Georgia football’s once-explosive offense wears the No. 4.
It wasn’t so long ago that Georgia football junior Mecole Hardman was officially in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
The speedy receiver-return man opened the season with at least one touchdown in each of the Bulldogs’ first four games this season, breaking into to ESPN’s Heisman Watch list.
Hardman averaged 149.25 yards per game, including 14 catches for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns along with four punt returns for 118 yards and a touchdown in games against Austin Peay, South Carolina, Middle Tennessee and Missouri.
The past three games, however, Hardman averages 61 yards and has 10 catches for 111 yards and four punt returns for 58 yards in addition to a 14-yard kick return.
“Yeah, I think they are trying to keep me from the deep ball a lot, especially after the first four or five games,” said Hardman, who hasn’t caught a pass for more than 25 yards the last three games. “I just have to get used to it and get open as much as I can.
“I’ll do the little things that help the team out and be patient and wait for the ball to come to me.“
Hardman hopes to break into the end zone for Georgia again on Saturday against Florida in the 3:30 p.m. rivalry game (TV: CBS, Radio: WSB 95.5 FM, 750 AM).
Defenses have been paying extra attention to Hardman, often shading a safety to his side of the field along with making sure he doesn’t get behind the defense.
Still, Hardman has fought to make things happen. Hardman’s 27-yard fourth quarter put return at LSU created a much needed energy, setting Georgia up at the Tigers’ 3-yard line with the score 19-9 at 14:39 remaining.
Hardman was stopped on a jet sweep and first-and-10, however, and the Bulldogs couldn’t pick up a first down. LSU scored on its ensuing drive, essentially clinching the game.
Earlier in the game, on the Bulldogs’ opening drive, Hardman was streaking open down the sideline when QB Jake Fromm uncharacteristically misfired, overthrown him.
Rather than complain or question play calls, ball distribution teammates, Hardmann gave credit to LSU.
“It was more of like, it’s not always the best team that wins, it’s the team that plays best, and I feel like LSU played a great game and had a great game plan, and they executed to the best of their abilities and it didn’t go right for us,” Hardman said. “We definitely didn’t overlook them, they played their cards right.”
Hardman said the loss can serve a purpose, much like Georgia’s regular-season loss at Auburn last season.
“After that loss to LSU, it was like wake up call, we have to get right, we have to get back to what got us here and get back to our standard of play,” Hardman said. “This week coming in, we have to get the job done, it’s on the line if we want to accomplish our goals.”
The fact that it’s Florida makes it all the more exciting for former Georgia high school stars like Hardman, who was a 5-star prospect and the No. 13 player in the nation in the 2016 class coming out of Elberty County (Ga.) High School.
“Every school you go to has their rival, and Florida is our rival, there’s no in between, you don’t like them,” Hardman said. “It’s that type of game, and that’s what you look forward to in college football.
“ Rivalry games is what you come to Georgia for, I’m coming for the Georgia-Florida game, it’s something I put my mind to.”
Georgia football WR Mecole Hardman
Georgia football vs. Florida, DawgNation