ATHENS – During the game, Isaac Nauta showed why he can be such a great weapon for Georgia, and why he was a preseason All-SEC pick.
After the game, though, it was fairly apparent he still has to do more to please Kirby Smart.
Nauta had one spectacular play in Georgia’s rout of Mississippi State, getting past the secondary to haul in a Jake Fromm pass, then dragging a defender over the goal-line for a 41-yard touchdown play.
On other plays, the sophomore tight end showed his improved blocking ability, helping clear space on the outside for Georgia’s running backs.
It seemed to be a turning point for Nauta, who was so quiet in Georgia’s first three games. Just three catches for 33 yards. During the broadcast of last week’s win over Samford, television analyst Barrett Jones relayed that Smart was concerned about Nauta’s practice habits, that they had to improve. That was why Nauta wasn’t getting the ball more.
Nauta was asked about that Saturday night.
“I like to think of myself as a hard worker,” he said. “It was just a matter of being more consistent, practicing. I come out every day with my work hat on and go to work. Coach Smart just wanted to see more consistency out of me at practice.
“And I knew that as well. I was having a couple plays where I could do better and I knew it. That’s just going to be my focus every week, is go as hard as I can, be more consistent in practice, and opportunities will come.”
A few minutes later, Smart was asked if Nauta’s practice habits improved and if that was reflected in that touchdown play. Initially, Smart answered: “No comment.” But without prodding he quickly did comment.
“Isaac continues to improve. We’ll keep working with Isaac,” Smart said. “And he’ll keep doing the things that he’s got to do. I’m glad that he was able to make the play that he made.”
Nauta was Georgia’s third-leading receiver last season, hauling in 29 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. He started five games.
So this year he was expected to take on an even bigger role, and perhaps be a breakout player nationally. The talent is there, going back to his five-star rating coming out of high school.
But after a quiet first few games, the long touchdown play on Saturday night felt like a long time coming to Nauta.
“Man it felt good,” he said. “I’ve been working for it. So it felt good to finally get in there. But no, I was happy to put more points on the board, to further our lead and get a security blanket for us.”