ATHENS — When George Pickens is on the field, anything can happen. In both good and bad ways. That’s life when you’re relying on a 5-star freshman at a key position.
The wide receiver can make a spectacular grab in the endzone as he did on Saturday night, icing No. 6 Georgia’s (8-1, 5-1) 27-0 win over Missouri (5-4, 2-3).
W H A T A C A T C H !!!!!!!!
— Hiro Katsuki (@KatsukiFB) November 10, 2019
But there’s also the mental mistakes that tend to happen with freshmen. Pickens could’ve added another touchdown — and appeased many of Georgia fans fretting over the offense — but his 68-yard touchdown catch and run was negated by the fact that Pickens wasn’t lined up properly, resulting in an illegal formation penalty.
Sometimes the spectacular and head-scratching happen on the same play. Pickens scored the game’s opening touchdown by making a leaping grab over the middle, finagled his way through two defenders and extending the ball into the endzone.
But when Pickens came over to the sideline his head coach wasn’t there to congratulate him. Kirby Smart reminded him that he shouldn’t expose the ball like he had, given a Missouri defender could’ve just as easily knocked the ball loose.
“Just doing the little things right. Attention to detail is what gets George,” Smart said on what he wants to see Pickens improve. “Just like you saw tonight. As talented as he is, if he doesn’t have attention to detail, he can hurt the team. If he does have attention to detail he can really help the team.”
— Hiro Katsuki (@KatsukiFB) November 10, 2019
Overall, Smart was pleased with how his young wide receiver played. Pickens finished the night with 5 catches for 67 yards and the 2 touchdowns. It was a nice bounce-back for the freshman after he had just a single catch for 4 yards in the win over Florida.
As talented as Pickens already is, nights like tonight are where you’re reminded he’s a freshman. Normally, elite college football teams wouldn’t need to rely on big performances from freshmen to help the offense. But with Lawrence Cager battling a nagging shoulder injury — which resurfaced and kept the senior out of the second half of the Missouri game — Georgia and quarterback Jake Fromm are going to have to rely on the freshman from Hoover, Ala.
Cager is the clear No. 1 option in the offense when he’s healthy, as his 6-catch 93 -yard performance showed on Saturday. But when Cager is hurt —or eventually double teamed in coverage — Georgia is going to need Pickens to put everything together.
At times on Saturday night, Pickens was able to do that.
“I think George does a job of stepping up when his number is called,” Fromm said. “We’re always trying to focus on the details with George and he did a great job of knowing the details. We’re really proud of him for going and making plays when they came his way.”
Fromm doesn’t have a problem throwing the ball to Pickens when there’s a tight window. His second touchdown of the night was put in a place where only Pickens could make a play on the ball. And there is a trust level between Pickens and Fromm. Earlier in the game, Fromm attempted a similar throw to Pickens in the endzone. But Pickens could only get one hand on the ball, and the pass fell incomplete.
When Pickens came to the sideline, Smart was there once again to chat with the freshman, this time most likely about the fact that you actually can catch the ball with two hands.
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm on George Pickens
Pickens isn’t afraid to talk with opposing defensive backs. Nor is he worried about what they might do when he’s an inch from their face. There’s an edge — a meanness— that Pickens plays with. It’s what allows him to make the plays that he’s capable of doing. But it also can get him in trouble, should a flag-happy referee decide that Pickens crossed a line.
And with a game against Auburn ahead, Pickens will need to be completely focused and locked in on those details. Because opposing fans and defensive backs are going to be talking at him all day, given he flipped his commitment from Auburn to Georgia at the 11th hour on National Signing Day in February. Gus Malzahn wasn’t happy about the decision at the time, and those Auburn fans likely haven’t forgotten.
That signing day flip made Pickens the first 5-star wide receiver to sign with the Bulldogs in a decade. And he’s backed up that lofty ranking so far this year. If he can just nail the little things, there’s a very real chance he can continue to ease the concerns about the Georgia offense.
“He’s got to do those things right. He’s talented and he loves the game. That’s what I love about him,” Smart said. “He loves the game of football.”
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- Georgia football game recap: Bulldogs knock off Missouri, 27-0
- Georgia football Game Ball against Missouri: Safety Richard LeCounte
- UGA back in good graces with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit
- Georgia football stock report: Defense soars, George Pickens scores
- WATCH: Georgia football coach Kirby Smart focused on ‘next step,’ not style points