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Sparks fly in Mitchell's return

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's passing game hardly suffered in Malcolm Mitchell's absence, with two receivers posting 100-yard performances and two more -- Tavarres King and Michael Bennett -- making season-defining fourth-down touchdown catches against Florida.

But when the Bulldogs' leading receiver returned to practice this week after missing three games with a hamstring injury, Mitchell reminded everyone what he brings to their aerial attack.

"Wednesday, what I watched in practice I was like, 'This kid's going to be ready,' " Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I kind of forgot how dynamic he is. He's really a pretty special player."

In his return to the lineup Saturday against Auburn, the fleet-footed freshman wasted no time validating his coach's opinion. Despite facing double coverage for much of the night, he led the team with three catches for 85 yards and a touchdown, leading the Bulldogs to a 45-7 rout of the Tigers.

Although he has played in only seven games, Mitchell leads the team with 523 receiving yards and is tied for third with 28 catches and four touchdowns. His average of 18.7 yards per catch is second among Bulldogs with at least 10 receptions.

"He's one of the most dynamic receivers I've ever seen," Bennett said.

Mitchell set up a touchdown on Georgia's opening drive by streaking down the field to catch a 44-yard bomb from Aaron Murray.

In the second quarter, his 16-yard catch was the longest play in a 40-yard drive, which resulted in another Georgia touchdown and a 21-7 lead.

And on the Bulldogs' next offensive series -- after Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo returned an interception for a touchdown that put the Bulldogs up 28-7 -- Mitchell stopped setting up teammates and made it to the end zone himself.

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis fell down as Mitchell hauled in a pass from Murray, and then Mitchell accelerated between Tigers defensive backs Neiko Thorpe and Ryan Smith for a 25-yard scoring play that gave Georgia a 35-7 halftime lead.

"He's an explosive guy," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "You saw when the ball hit his hands, he tries to score."

Mitchell told reporters last week how painful it had been to stay behind in Athens when his teammates went on the road to claim narrow victories against Vanderbilt and Florida.

Once he returned to practice, he begged Murray to work him back into the offense.

"He's been like, 'Give me the ball, give me the ball,' all week in practice, so I'm happy he's back out there," Murray laughed. "He's definitely a huge playmaker for us."

The big plays were just the icing on the cake. Mitchell said his greatest joy came in simply being back on the field.

"I missed it so much," he said. "Without the team, just watching them play just felt bad inside. So for me to be able to come back out here and even be on the field with them, even if I wouldn't have made those plays, just being out there to run around with the team, it just made me happy."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.