ATHENS, Ga. — Twice now, wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley has answered the call for Georgia when Malcolm Mitchell went down with injury.
This time, it probably won’t be as a quick fix. The Bulldogs will count on Scott-Wesley for the duration of the season.
The redshirt sophomore will be looked to even more for the Bulldogs’ offense after Mitchell was lost for the season with a torn ACL Saturday against Clemson.
“Justin’s got himself in tremendous condition, and I think now he really believes in himself,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He’s really gotten better as we go. I’m proud of him. With Malcolm getting hurt, I’m sure his role is going to expand, as well.”
When Mitchell went out with a concussion in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day, Scott-Wesley stepped up with three catches for 67 yards against Nebraska.
On Saturday at Clemson when Mitchell was hurt after jumping in the end zone to celebrate Todd Gurley’s 75-yard, first-quarter touchdown run, Scott-Wesley had 55 yards on a career-high four catches.
“Any time a guy goes down, it’s the team’s job to rally,” Scott-Wesley said. “Malcolm’s a great player. He’s a big-time playmaker, but that’s just the nature of the game. He went down and the coaches, they needed me to step up, so I did.”
Said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo: “I thought Justin played great. That was good for Justin to get some confidence. I thought all of our guys played hard. They competed. When the ball was thrown their way, they caught it. Even some guys made some unbelievable catches out there when we were a little bit off.”
Georgia is listing Michael Bennett as the starter at split end for the Southeastern Conference opener against South Carolina on Saturday. Junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph, who missed the opener with a strained hamstring, will be the backup.
But the 5-foot-11, 206-pound Scott-Wesley will be a bigger option now in the passing game. He admitted he was raw coming from Mitchell County High School, where he created buzz as a sprinter. He had six catches for 135 yards with a touchdown in nine games last season.
Among his catches against Clemson was an 11-yard, fourth-down grab in which he broke three tackles to pick up the first down, and a leaping 19-yard catch over the middle to get to the Clemson 6.
“He made some really fine catches in traffic a couple of times, kept his balance and got some good yards after the catch, and he’s a good blocker,” Richt said. “The other thing is he’s a guy on special teams that we’re really relying on on a couple of our teams.”
Scott-Wesley was back on kickoff returns, but Clemson had touchbacks on all seven of its kicks. He raced down as a gunner to recover a fumble on a punt return in the second quarter.
“They put who they think is the best guy for the job, and obviously the coaches feel that I would be good at the gunner position,” Scott-Wesley said. “I just went out and made the most of it.”
Scott-Wesley was asked during the preseason if he could have a breakout year given how deep the receiving corps was with Mitchell, Bennett and Chris Conley already established.
“What’s your definition of breakout season?” he said then. “Just getting on the field and making plays would be a breakout season for me compared to what I was doing a year ago or even two years ago.”
Scott-Wesley certainly should have a chance to do that now.
“I see what it takes to be great,” he said. “I see what it takes to be a good receiver. I see what it takes to be a great offense. We have to play as a unit and can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties. We’ve just got to get better.”