As is always the case, the Texas Longhorns will see their fair share of top-tier pass-catchers throughout conference play, but they won’t have to wait until Week 4 to meet an elite wide receiver.
Louisiana Tech’s Adrian Hardy will fill that void right out of the gates, which means Texas’ slew of sophomore corners — two of which will be stepping into new roles as first-year starters — will endure a bit of a trial by fire to begin the 2019 campaign.
A former Oklahoma Sooners signee, Hardy emerged as one of the nation’s most productive receivers as a redshirt sophomore. He hauled in a Conference USA-best 75 catches for 1,145 yards, which was also good enough to crack the top-20 nationally, thanks in large part to five 100-yard performances, including a 10-reception, 181-yard explosion against LSU and a 10-catch, 160-yard showing against Rice; Texas’ Week 3 opponent.
And he’s expected to be even better as a junior, as evident by his preseason Conference USA first-team honors and placement on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List.
As a sophomore, Hardy often served as a security blanket for quarterback J’Mar Smith, and that should prove even truer in 2019. Smith, now a senior, targeted Hardy a team-high 127 times last season, but with fellow 70-catch receiver Teddy Veal, whom Smith targeted 104 times, no longer in town, expect the Bulldogs’ field general to rely upon Hardy even more heavily, especially early on, and in particular, in Austin on Aug. 31.
Smith would be unwise not to do so.
For the most part, the 6’2, 200-pound Hardy is a complete package, and Louisiana Tech utilizes him accordingly. Technically Louisiana Tech’s X receiver, Hardy will set up shop on either side of the field at various points, which means likely starting field corner Jalen Green and whichever of Kobe Boyce, Anthony Cook, and D’Shawn Jamison starts opposite of him at boundary corner will be pitted against Hardy at one point or another.
Whenever those matchups materialize, Texas’ young corners will be tested right from the snap, as Hardy displays impressive footwork at the line of scrimmage to force defenders to bite and earn an early step advantage. This often leads to the Bulldogs chewing up big chunks of yardage, as Hardy 26 catches of at least 15 yards led the conference.
Adrian Hardy showed explosive ability with the football in his hands last season. pic.twitter.com/Ah7KU3XS4Y— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 12, 2019
Save for Texas’ young corners — potentially two making their first-ever starts if Green and Jamison earn first-team nods — exceeding expectations out of the gates, it’s safe to assume that Hardy will be on the receiving end of a few more big gains to begin the 2019 season.
But that much is to be expected from arguably the top receiver in Conference USA.
However, if there is some reason for confidence from Texas’ end, despite the general inexperience at corner, it’s that those same corners have spent the entire offseason competing against a Collin Johnson-led receiver corps that may very well be prove to be elite in the near future, and by many accounts, they have held their own. And, of course, even as they expectedly endure some early growing pains against a premier talent, they’ll enjoy a security blanket of their own in the form of Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns, which are already regarded as an elite safety tandem.
Will Hardy, alone, be enough for Louisiana Tech to upset Texas? That much is unlikely, even if he has a field day, as he’s proven capable of doing. But if Hardy does, indeed, have a field day against the Horns’ young corners, Texas could find itself in a contest that’s much too close for comfort, just as LSU did last season.