The game plan for the SEC championship will have Alabama paying particular attention to both sides of the punt game. Georgia junior Mecole Hardman leads the nation with an average of 21.79 yards per punt return and is one of three players in the country with more than 300 return yards on punts.

“Hardman is really, really a good returner,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They’ve made some explosive returns this year, so we’re going to have to do a great job of covering. We also have to protect, especially after last week when we had an error in protection and got a punt blocked. But they do a great job of holding up and he’s a very dangerous returner. Obviously to me the best we’ve seen all year.”

Alabama had a punt blocked against Auburn for the first time all season.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said the Bulldogs’ special teams haven’t been as consistent this year as in 2017, though some areas have excelled. Some of the credit for that goes to Hardman and his fellow wide receivers.

“I think six of those guys start on special teams and do all kinds of things to make our team better,” Smart said. “They’ve really bought in to being a physical core unit, and that’s what makes them different.”


Reach Ben Jones at or 205-722-0196.