ATLANTA — Without George Pickens in the second quarter for the Georgia footbal offensel, things were pretty bad. The Bulldogs committed a calamity of errors, ranging from a missed kick to a muffed punt.
Then when Pickens — who missed the first half due what Kirby Smart called, “a violation of team rules,” — entered the game, the Georgia offense picked up and looked better than it had in a long time. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first two of their first three second-half drives, including one by Pickens where he got wide open.
“Ain’t no way around it. Ain’t no woulda’, coulda’ shoulda’. All you have to do is not throw a punch or slap or whatever it was. You just have to be smart.”
To Rice’s point, Pickens is now Georgia’s leading receiver when it comes to catches, receiving yards and touchdowns. He became Georgia’s top receiver statistically on Saturday due to the fact that Lawrence Cager missed the Georgia Tech game due to ankle surgery that will also keep him out through the SEC championship game.
Now the Bulldogs will have to find enough first-half offense against the Tigers until Georgia can get its top receiver back. And it doesn’t help that D’Andre Swift left the game with a shoulder injury, though Smart indicated he would be fine.
Related: Georgia coach Kirby Smart updates D’Andre Swift status, reveals prior contusions
That Pickens was involved in a skirmish shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s gotten in the face of just about every defensive back he’s lined up against this season. Before the eruption on Saturday, Pickens was giving Swilling an earful.
And the fact that this was a rivalry game likely only heightened the intensity on both sides.
“There’s always going to be some chippy talk and a chippy game like this between two rivals,” Georgia wide receiver Tyler Simmons said. “But you can’t let that get to you.”
Smart has said many times that by this point in the season, freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore. Pickens has now played in 12 games, a complete season.
But Pickens ended up showing his age at perhaps the worst possible time on Saturday.
“I know now because I have my own children, that you have to love them and you have to help them,” Smart said. “And you have to discipline your children. They do things wrong, then they get punished.”
Pickens’ punishment will be missing the first half of the SEC championship game. Georgia will also be punished because it now loses a key part of the offense heading into what basically amounts as College Football Playoff play-in game. The whole team suffers because of what Pickens did in the middle of a blowout of a 3-9 team.
Smart made it clear that he wants to help Pickens overcome this incident and that the freshman is still a valued part of the Georgia program. He praised how Pickens spent time with sick children at an Atlanta area hospital on Friday.
But Pickens is also going to need to show that he won’t let this moment define his freshman season. Because for all the spectacular catches and plays he’s made this year, his fight on Saturday is going to be what people remember about this year.
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