ATHENS — Clearly, the Georgia Bulldogs have big plans for Matt Landers. Believe it or not, they’re not based on him throwing touchdown passes.
Landers, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman receiver from Pinellas, Fla., was unable to haul in a touchdown catch during the G-Day Game on Saturday. But he threw for one. The 39-yard TD throw came on a reverse off a lateral from running back James Cook and it was caught by quarterback D’Wan Mathis midway through the third quarter.
That gave Landers something Mathis wanted — a TD pass — and Mathis something Landers wanted — a TD catch. But nobody was complaining afterward.
“I didn’t see that coming,” Landers said with a laugh.
How could he have? Landers said they didn’t even practice the play. He said it was something that Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley drew up for the Black Team during Friday’s meeting-room preparations.
Coley made it clear they were going to run it on Saturday. They just weren’t sure when or how well it would work.
“It worked,” Landers said with a laugh. “We didn’t practice it at at all. We just went over it. Coach Coley drew it up and we came out here and did it today. It just worked.”
To perfection, in fact. It’s nothing that we all haven’t seen in little league, or somewhere along the line. Running back James Cook went left and took a handoff from Mathis, who went right. So did Landers, coming from the left side of the field on a revers.
“The DB that was on me came on a blitz and they tackled Cook, so they thought the play was over,” Mathis said. “When he pitched it to me, I saw D’Wan wide open and I knew that was my chance to throw. The ball came out good and we executed and scored.”
That was a fun play, but not really what Landers was focused on coming into Saturday’s scrimmage or going out. Landers was targeted early and often in Saturday’s G-Day Game. In the end, though, he came away with only two catches for 54 yards.
That 52 of those yards came on one catch did help him process the disappointment.
“Really it’s just getting an opportunity,” said Landers, who was a 3-star prospect coming out of St. Petersburg High Schoo. “Seeing that a lot of guys left, I knew I was going to be the guy that had to step up. I’d been hearing I have a lot of potential, but I just wanted to go out there and see for myself.”
Landers was targeted on deep balls at least two other times on Saturday. But he was unable to come down with either one, a point of contention for coach Kirby Smart.
“We’ve seen flashes of really good things from Matt; we’re seeing more of those flashes; with those flashes, we’ve got to see him come down with some 50-50 balls,” Smart said. “There were a couple of balls I thought he should have pulled down early and get going. He’s become a better special teams player, too. He’s able to contribute and been more competitive. We need Matt to really step up for us.”
That’s not the first time Landers has heard that. He has been hearing it from receivers coach Cortez Hankton and pretty much everybody else who sees him practice every day. With the departures of leading wideouts Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman and Terry Godwin, it’s hard not to notice the tall kid from Florida who also happens to be one of the team’s fastest players.
“He’s fast, he’s got great hands, he comes out of breaks great. He’s a special talent,” quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “He’s still trying to get everything together but, gosh, he’s really good. I love throwing to him. Nobody’s telling us to do that. We just believe in him.”
Obviously the Georgia coaches share that belief. They must to trust him to take a pitch and throw a bomb downfield without ever rehearsing it in practice.
But that’s not what the Bulldogs are looking for from Landers. Catching balls should be good enough from now on.
“Matt’s had a good spring,” Smart said. “Matt’s level of consistency has to improve. Matt has to play to Matt’s standard all the time.”
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