For really the first time all night, one of Georgia’s wide receivers —Kearis Jackson — let JT Daniels down, dropping what would’ve been a sure touchdown to put Georgia up 31-24 in the fourth quarter.
Then on the next play, another wide receiver — George Pickens — dropped what could’ve been another touchdown. The play after Pickens atoned by picking up a third-down conversion, but it had been negated by a holding penalty on Warren McClendon.
“It was really next play,” Daniels said on the series of unfortunate plays. “Didn’t come up with two plays in a row and you’re like ‘damn, wish that happened.’
So on third-and-20 Georgia needed to make a play to at least get back in field goal range. Mississippi State went Cover 0, essentially putting all Georgia wide receivers in one-on-one situations.
“When I knew what we had called, and when I saw the zero shell I knew we were about to score,” Daniels said.
That’s exactly what Georgia did as Daniels hit an open Jackson for a 40-yard touchdown. It was his fourth on the game, one in which he threw for 401 yards.
Related: Game Ball: JT Daniels’ 401-yard passing performance ignites Georgia offense
Daniels made a lay-up, something Georgia’s quarterbacks hadn’t been doing in losses to Florida and Alabama. Jackson finished with four catches for 55 yards. Pickens ended up having his best game of the season, snaring eight passes for 87 yards and a touchdown, Daniels’ first in a Georgia uniform.
Pickens missed the past two games but from the outset on Saturday, it was clear he had a connection with Daniels and was engaged in the offense in a way he had not been to this point in the season. It’s not a coincidence his best game with Daniels under center.
Then there was Jermaine Burton, who came just nine yards short of setting a new school record for receiving yards. He finished the game with 197 receiving yards and two touchdowns on eight catches. Coming into the night, the freshman had 10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown on the season.
Daniels spoke very clearly on why he felt so comfortable consistently putting it up there to his wide receivers.
“If you have George Pickens and Jermaine Burton, if you’re not going to throw it up to them, don’t recruit them,” Daniels said. “George will make me look good, Jermaine will make me look good. Kearis makes me look really good when I under throw him on a deep ball down the middle and makes a great play.
Much like quarterback, it was fair to wonder why Georgia hadn’t gotten more out of its wide receivers under Smart. It certainly doesn’t help when the likes of Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and Dominick Blaylock suffer season-injuries.
And as we saw in the run up to the Mississippi State game, ineffective quarterback play won’t help either.
The game-winning drive perhaps best encapsulates the past and future of the wide receiver position. There were some hiccups. But the performances of Jackson, Pickens and Burton also offer a sign of hope.
Because with Daniels at quarterback, the belief is there in the Georgia pass catchers.
“They’re just resilient. They just kept coming,” Smart said. “They could have tucked their head and been upset but we’ve got to make those plays. They tried to bring the house and we made them pay.”
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels on Georgia’s wide receivers
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