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George Pickens will be a major key against Auburn.

All eyes will be on George Pickens and his emotions for both Georgia football and Auburn

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Why Georgia football needs the best version of George Pickens against Auburn

George Pickens was publicly committed to playing football for Auburn University for over 18 months. He took visits elsewhere but remained publicly pledged to Auburn’s 2019 recruiting class. He was set to be one of three 5-star prospects in the Auburn class, to go along with quarterback Bo Nix and linebacker Owen Pappoe.

Up until the 11th hour, the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama for the 2019 class was set to officially join the Auburn program. And then on National Signing Day, he made the stunning decision to sign with the Georgia Bulldogs.

And people connected to the Auburn football were furious. Gus Malzahn was not happy, as he alluded to but did not mention Pickens by name at his press conference on National Signing Day. Multiple Auburn players hinted at the fact that Pickens may have gotten money to flip in tweets that have since been deleted. And Auburn fans are very much going to let Pickens know that they didn’t appreciate his decision.

Added into all of this is the fact that Pickens is a very fiery player. He can constantly be seen chirping with opposing defensive backs during the course of the game.

“He has a big personality. He’s going to celebrate. He’s going to be playing hard out there on the edge,” Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays said of the freshman. “He’s going to be blocking a guy, getting in his face to let him know he’s there.”

Pickens is also coming off his best SEC game as a Bulldog. He hauled in 5 Jake Fromm passes for 67 yards. Two of those went for touchdowns, both of which were spectacular individual efforts.

This will be Pickens’ first game back in his home state, and thus an emotional game for an emotional player. But his head coach doesn’t necessarily see this as a bigger game than any other.

“When you step inside the lines, you have to go execute, you have to focus on the task at hand,” Smart said. “You have to block out all the noise and the outside stuff, and you have to go play. That doesn’t change week to week.”

Smart recounted how Pickens ended up at Georgia. Smart brought up that the Bulldogs had been recruiting the 5-star wide receiver throughout the process, and that he had made a handful of trips to Georgia. When Georgia lost Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley as early entrants to the NFL draft — as well as Georgia failing to re-land the commitment of 5-star in-state wide receiver Jadon Haselwood — the opportunity to play early at Georgia really opened up.

When Pickens explained his commitment to Georgia back in February, he gave another reason.

“I mean it came down to the wire actually,” Pickens said. “They both had good coaches. Great everything. They both were actually the same in my mind. It is just what separated them was the winning factor.”

Smart added that when he used his in-home visit with Pickens in Hoover, Ala., it seemed apparent the wide receiver was on the edge of flipping his commitment. Those in the recruiting industry who thought Pickens was going to flip figured it might be to Tennessee or Miami. The fact that it was to Georgia made it all the more stunning, and all the more gut-wrenching for Auburn.

Related: With George Pickens, Georgia football has to live with the bad to enjoy the good

Because now the Tigers are going to have to face him every year he’s in college. Through the first 9 games of his career, Pickens is second on the team with 29 catches and 398 receiving yards. His 4 touchdown catches tie him with Lawrence Cager for the team lead. All of those numbers are better than what Haselwood is doing at Oklahoma.

“He just brings a great vertical threat— a lot of energy, a lot of charisma. He’s just a great person to have on this offense,” Mays said of Pickens.

If there’s a member of the team that knows what Pickens is going to experience this weekend, it’s Mays. The offensive lineman was a long-time Tennessee commit, before ultimately flipping and signing with Georgia in the 2018 class. Earlier this season, Mays — who also grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., — made his return to the program he once planned on attending.

Mays called the experience “awesome” and that he wasn’t too bothered by the fact that he was playing against guys he knew very well or by the many heckling fans in Neyland Stadium.

And the most important thing for Pickens to do — per Mays — is something that would make Frank the Tank in the film Old School proud.

“Just keeping your composure. Not letting the moment be bigger than it is,” Mays said.” Just focusing on the task and making sure you know what you’re here for and know what your job is.”

Georgia is going to need Pickens to contribute on Saturday, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Cager and his shoulder injury. It’s going to need him to stay focused on the task at hand and not what someone in blue and orange is saying to him.

Teammates know Pickens plays with an edge and they’ve taken it upon themselves to make sure he doesn’t go over the edge at times. Against Kentucky, Pickens started to do a throat slash that likely would’ve drawn a penalty. But senior tight end Charlie Woerner wrapped him up and bear-hugged him before the refs could see it.

And knowing that Pickens is going to be a target of opposing taunts and how important he is to the Georgia offense, his teammates are going to make sure his emotions are kept in check on Saturday.

“We’ll most definitely have George calmed down during this game,” safety J.R. Reed said. “We’ll have it figured out before we get there on Saturday.”

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