It was yet another third down that Georgia hoped to move the chains on. Mecole Hardman, however, wanted more out of the play.
Facing third-and-8 in the fourth quarter, quarterback Jake Fromm moved up in the pocket and delivered a strike to the left sideline. Hardman caught the ball and then turned upfield. He made a defender miss and cut across the field for what was turning into a big gain.
It soon became apparent that his speed was too much for the Missouri secondary. As he blew past defenders, Hardman completed the play for a 59-yard touchdown. It was the final score in Georgia’s 53-28 win over Missouri.
For Hardman, that’s the kind of big play potential many onlookers have been waiting on. A former five-star prospect, Hardman began his career at Georgia as a cornerback before moving to receiver this past spring. He has had some spectacular moments early, but also a few drops.
The 59-yard score was the first time everyone got to see Hardman break a big play of that kind of distance.
“It’s been there,” Hardman said. “I just have to take advantage of the opportunities I get. I did that (Saturday).”
Hardman has been his own toughest critic when it comes to dropping the ball. He let a deep ball fall through his hands at Notre Dame and took to his Twitter account to tell his followers he would continue working hard on rectifying the issue.
“The drops, that was just me not focusing in practicing,” Hardman said. “I have to keep myself focused and keep myself up to make the plays I know I can make.”
Hardman didn’t drop any passes against Missouri and came up with two catches for 71 yards. He added a 35-yard touchdown on an end-around run, which gave Georgia its first score of the game in the first quarter.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has been pleased with how Hardman has responded since experiencing some early-season drops.
“I think you guys got to see him with some speed, some burst, some get-open, and really run,” Smart said. “He does a good job of that. Mecole is a very attentive player who is passionate about the game. I love the way he approaches each practice and the way he works. I hope it gives him more confidence so he continues to grow.”
While Hardman had his best game at receiver thus far, he said there is plenty left to improve upon.
“I’m still transitioning,” Hardman said. “I still have some work to do, still some improving to clean up. Right now I’m coming into my own and doing the best I can do.”