ATHENS — If you watched what freshmen wide receivers George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock did on Saturday, the average fan would be hard-pressed to find many faults.
Blaylock created a 60-yard touchdown out of thin air and his 4-catch, 112-yard performance made him Georgia receiver to finish a game with more than 100 yards since Isaiah McKenzie did it in 2016.
Pickens finished the game with 5 catches for 84 yards and a few more highlight-worthy catches that would’ve gotten a “My God, a freshman,” from the late Larry Munson.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 14, 2019
But if you were to watch Georgia coach Kirby Smart interact with both players on the sideline, you could pretty easily see that he wants both to improve.
In the first quarter of the game, Blaylock didn’t hold his block long enough, leading to running back Brian Herrien getting tackled short of the first down. As Blaylock came off the field, Smart went up to him, chatted with him about the play and then had him turn around and watch the replay of it on the giant video screen as a way to show him that it wasn’t good enough.
With Pickens, Smart had similar conversations with him throughout the game.
“All people see is the catches,” Smart said of Pickens. “You don’t see what he does when he doesn’t have the ball or you see a busted route. He had several things today that he didn’t do right, so he has a lot of improving to do.”
This is the point in the story where it’s time to remind folks that Pickens and Blaylock are still just freshmen. In the season-opening win, the two combined for 0 catches, with Blaylock not even entering the game.
After the Arkansas State win, Pickens and Blaylock are leading the team in receiving yards — Pickens with 162 on 9 catches, Blaylock with 160 on 7 receptions.
“We think that they are able to go out there and make plays and a lot of times they went out there and they did,” Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said. “That’s what we’re doing, trying to put guys in a position to go out and make plays, and that’s what they’re doing.”
Part of the reason for the uptick in playing time and usage is due to injuries. In the Vanderbilt game, starting wide receiver Kearis Jackson broke his hand. Tyler Simmons — who also doubles as the team’s starting punt returner — left the Arkansas State game with a right should injury and did not return. Demetris Robertson was held out of Saturday’s game with nagging injuries.
This is in part why Smart attests that Pickens and Blaylock haven’t changed much since the catchless Vanderbilt game.
Pickens was still making those jaw-dropping catches in practice in August. We have video proof of that. He plays the position like a bull: hard-charging and very willing to make the opponent look foolish for stepping into the ring with him. The freshman plays angry all the time, and the only time that changes is when he’s just shown up an opposing defensive back.
And now the Georgia offense is starting to feature those gifts that make it so obvious that he can one day be an elite player.
“I think you’re seeing that because we’re trying to use his talents more,” Smart said. “The first game we didn’t know how he would respond and we tried to get him the ball some late. The second game we certainly had some opportunities to use him, and he’s improved and proving that he can become accountable.”
As for Blaylock, all the things that were said about him in the preseason are still the case. He’s still a silky smooth athlete and still draws rave reviews for his ego-free approach. In addition to his time at wide receiver, Blaylock. also took over punt return duties for the injured Simmons.
“Just his consistency,” running back D’Andre Swift said of Blaylock’s strongest attribute. “He’s a young guy, he takes coaching and criticism and he’s always looking to get better at the little things.”
After the game, senior wide receiver Lawrence Cager — who also scored a touchdown on Saturday — shared what he’s told the two freshmen as a veteran player. He reminds them to just relax. Obviously being the new guys, Pickens and Blaylock want to come in and make an impact in the receiving game. But at Georgia, they have to nail the little things too if they want to continue to see the field.
Herrien perhaps gave the best outlook on the two young receivers. Right now, they are still freshmen. They’re going to have their growing pains, and certainly will early on in the season.
But that also means they have a ton of room to grow. And their respective ceilings might be as high as anyone’s on the team.
“It’s gonna be tough to guard,” Herrien said. “They young, they’re listening and they’re learning from really good players right now. With the coaches they have, they’re gonna be ready to go. ”
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