ATHENS — Malcolm Mitchell has had a lot of highlight moments with the Georgia Bulldogs. But the senior wide receiver insists he hasn’t had “THE” highlight moment of his career yet. As the Bulldogs prepare to face Florida Saturday in Jacksonville, he’s still pursuing that one.
Most would argue Mitchell already has had that moment at EverBank Field. They’d remind you of what happened late in the fourth quarter against the No. 3-ranked Gators as Mitchell hauled in the game-sealing touchdown on an impressive 45-yard catch-and-run.
But about that play, that ended with him splitting two defenders and high-stepping into the end zone, Mitchell just shrugs off as yesterday’s news.
“I have made better catches than that, to be completely honest,” said Mitchell, a sophomore when he made the play in 2012. “Maybe the timing wasn’t as important. I’ve made better catches this season than I did even back then. So my (career) isn’t defined on that play.”
Maybe not, but it’s the one by which most Georgia fans remember him. As the late Larry Munson would’ve said, “get the picture” …
The Bulldogs were clinging to a 10-9 lead over the SEC East favorites on a day when Aaron Murray had already thrown three interceptions. Georgia, already having benefited from a third-down holding call on Dominique Easley, faced third-and-five at the Gators’ 45. As it had all night, Florida blitzed.
Murray and Mitchell both read it, and Murray raised up to hit him on a quick five-yard hitch. The last 40 yards was all Mitchell.
After shaking the initial high tackle attempt by Loucheiz Purifoy — “the best cover guy Florida has,” CBS’s Gary Danielson said on the broadcast – Mitchell turned up field, juked to the inside to make safety Matt Elam miss, then had Neland Ball and De’Ante Saunders bounce off either side of him as he cut between them at the 5 and high-stepped into the end zone.
The score came with 7:11 left in the game, put the Dogs up 17-9 and, after yet another defensive stand, stood up for the win. Georgia would soon be headed to the Georgia Dome for the SEC championship game.
“I remember that we really needed a play,” recalled tight end Jay Rome, Mitchell’s teammate at UGA and Valdosta High. “Malcolm caught a hitch, I want to say, and turned it inside and broke a tackle and then I knew he was going to go the distance from there. I’ve seen him do that before, take a simple play like that and break it. It wasn’t even designed to be a big play. We were just chopping wood. But that’s what Malcolm does, just take an ordinary five- or six-yard hitch and take it to the house. I’ve seen that so many times since middle school.”
Mitchell admits the play is a warm-and-fuzzy memory for him. But nothing more than that.
“As a player, if I constantly flash back or reflect back on things I did previously, I’ll never get better,” Mitchell said. “I’ll always see it as being good enough. So moving forward, that was a big play. ut hopefully that doesn’t define me or my entire career at UGA.”
Three years later, Mitchell has had to work even harder for his big plays. While encountered maximum attention and tight coverage from opposing defenses, he has made some of the most extraordinary catches of his career. His leaping touchdown grabs of 36 and 28 yards against Alabama and Tennessee, respectively, were SportsCenter material, except they came in losing causes.
Mitchell enters the eighth game of the season leading the Bulldogs with twice as many catches (35 for 505 yards) as anybody else on the team and four touchdowns. He also comes in as determined as ever to make some career-defining plays. That he’ll likely be facing Florida’s All-America cornerback Vernon Hargreaves most of the day only makes it more enticing.
“It definitely raises effort and focus,” he said of the matchup and everything that’s on the line. “But all you really want to do at the end of the day is win. You don’t care how you do it, to be honest.”
But, he added, “it’s an opportunity to make a lot of plays and be remembered for it.”
As for that play in 2012, Mitchell said he still hears about it all the time from Georgia fans.
“If they think about me when they think about that play, I’m OK with that,” he said. “But me, personally, it’s not something I continue to think about.”
Making new memories is what is on Mitchell’s mind.