ATHENS, Ga. -- He had just experienced possibly the best game of his career and his team had just passed its first big test with flying colors, but after Georgia's 41-20 win at Missouri on Saturday night, the first subject receiver Marlon Brown chose to discuss was a couple of minor miscues.
"I had two drops I want back," Brown said. "Yeah, that's what I'm going to dwell on because there's always room for improvement."
"Room for improvement" is the theme of the senior receiver's career thus far, but his eight catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri have those around Georgia's program saying this might finally be the breakthrough performance they expected over the last three seasons.
At 6-foot-5 and 216 pounds, Brown is Georgia's biggest receiver. Despite the drops he mentioned, Brown has reliable hands, better-than-average speed and is slippery enough to make something happen after the catch. And yet something -- typically minor injuries such as the high-ankle sprain he suffered just before the start of the 2011 season -- has always prevented him from producing with any consistency.
"I've been talking about Marlon for two years," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said after the Missouri win. "Going into camp last year, I thought he had an outstanding camp and had the high-ankle sprain. And this year, another outstanding camp. Hopefully that right there tonight will give him a lot of confidence to go out there and do that every week."
Aside from his four-catch, 121-yard outing against Vanderbilt last season, Brown's performance has never lived up to the excitement that accompanied his signing with the Bulldogs. Brown's skeptics viewed the Vandy game as something of a fluke -- Georgia exploited a coverage weakness to hit Brown for two touchdowns using the same passing play -- but there was nothing fluky about his performance against Missouri.
Brown made a 40-yard catch and run after fighting off a defender in single coverage. He made a graceful 2-yard touchdown catch and got his feet down before falling out of the end zone. He grabbed an 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter between Missouri's Braylon Webb and Will Ebner, putting the Bulldogs ahead for good.
He was the player the Bulldogs apparently see in practice instead of the one who always seemed to be MIA or injured on Saturdays -- a trend that continued last week when he missed the opener against Buffalo with a strained hamstring.
"From my freshman year, I always thought I was going to come in and have big games for my team," Brown said. "So this year, for this game, I was pretty excited. This is my first game back because I didn't play last week; I was hurt. It was a really big game for me."
Few players on Georgia's roster arrived with greater recruiting acclaim than Brown, who became one of the jewels of the Bulldogs' class of 2009 when he picked Georgia over home-state Tennessee and Ohio State. ESPN rated the Memphis native as the nation's No. 24 overall prospect and the No. 3 receiver behind LSU's Rueben Randle and Florida's Andre Debose.
Brown generated minor buzz in practice early in his career, yet he barely registered a blip in the Bulldogs' passing game as a freshman or sophomore, making just 13 catches for 148 yards and one touchdown between the two seasons.
Based on offseason reports, the 2011 season should have been Brown's breakout season, but the high-ankle sprain plagued him for much of the fall and he finished the season with 15 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns -- and much of that production came against Vandy.
So when Brown's teammates and coaches began to compliment him again this spring and preseason, it was difficult to tell whether it was more empty happy talk or whether he was legitimately ready to emerge as a more consistent weapon, because they certainly heaped praise upon Brown whenever he was discussed.
"The dude is balling, man, really," senior receiver Tavarres King said two weeks ago before the Buffalo game. "He's just extremely consistent. He's doing everything that's asked of him -- running game, passing game, he's attacking the ball when it's in the air. He just looks like a well-rounded receiver right now. I say it all the time, but he continues to progress and get better. It's crazy the steps and the strides that he's made as a receiver."
Three days later, Brown's tight hamstring prevented him from playing against the Bulls. But his play against Missouri showed off the improvements Brown made during offseason work with Georgia's new conditioning staff, particularly speed and flexibility coach Sherman Armstrong.
"Marlon is a big, physical receiver and he's faster than he used to be," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He's trained, he's trimmed his body down, he's worked hard with our strength staff -- Sherman Armstrong especially -- with his speed. It's paid off for him. He's quicker, he's more flexible and he's always had real strong hands."
Now the question is whether Brown can put those attributes to good use on a consistent basis or whether he will slip into the background the way he has in the past after showing flashes of potential.
Bobo, for one, thinks the Missouri game might finally be the big step he has been waiting for Brown to take.
"He looks more and more like a complete receiver," Bobo said on Georgia's Sunday teleconference. "I was really bummed out last week when we weren't going to have him for that first game, he had the hamstring, but was glad he came out last night and had a good day. Like I said last night, hopefully this will give him some confidence moving forward that he can perform like that week in and week out."