ATHENS -- Malcolm Mitchell had just made the kind of freshman mistake that can derail a drive. A defensive back had turned his back at the wrong time, and Mitchell, the Georgia receiver, had given him a push, drawing the 10-yard penalty.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was up in the press box, calling plays.
“I asked: Who was it on? They said Malcolm Mitchell,” Bobo said. “And I said, Well he’s about to get a chance to make up for it right here.”
Sure enough, on the very next play Mitchell beat the defender downfield and hauled in a 69-yard pass. A few plays later, Georgia scored, and Mitchell’s catch was the longest play in Georgia’s 27-13 win at Mississippi on Saturday.
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Such has Mitchell’s promise quickly become apparent that coaches didn’t penalize the freshman, but they used him to make up for it.
Tailback Isaiah Crowell is becoming the player that many expected when he signed to much fanfare last February. But Mitchell is holding is own at receiver, as well.
Mitchell is Georgia’s leader in catches (17) and receiving yards (252). He’s tied for sixth in the SEC for catches and is seventh in receiving yards.
“He has got a very great set of attributes,” head coach Mark Richt said. “He’s very competitive. He has real good stamina. He runs the routes for a freshman pretty darn good.”
And to think for a time during his recruitment, Mitchell wasn’t even supposed to be a receiver.
The Valdosta product wanted to be a cornerback, and he was pegged as such right up until the time he committed to Georgia, a few weeks before signing day. But after speaking with his family -- and without prodding from coaches, he insists -- he signed as a receiver.
“I had it probably made up in my mind before I even committed, probably in January,” he said. “It was just something I felt I was really meant to play.”
“I think he could play either side of the ball,” Bobo said. “He’s a great player. But he’s an explosive guy.”
There remain a few rough edges, as the illegal block showed. Richt wants Mitchell to “clean up” in his blocking ability, and become a more physical player overall.
“But for a guy to come in and do what he’s doing, it’s pretty impressive to me,” Richt said.
The person downplaying Mitchell’s performance so far is Mitchell himself. He declines the playmaker label, saying he has more to do, and he credited quarterback Aaron Murray with his production so far.
“I feel I can still contribute a lot more than what I’m doing,” he said. “I make a few catches here and there. I’m not satisfied yet, so I gotta keep working.”
A few catches here and there?
“Yes, I feel like I’ve still got to learn,” he said.
Senior cornerback Brandon Boykin started talking about Mitchell’s promise several months ago, when the freshman wowed veterans in workouts. So when Boykin was asked Monday if anything from Mitchell had surprised him, he started shaking his head before the question was finished.
“Not at all,” Boykin said. “I told a lot of guys in the summer that Malcolm was going to be a really good receiver, contribute a lot for us this year. And, sure enough, he’s doing it.”