ATHENS — Give it to Juwan Taylor. While game refs and pretty much everybody else in Williams-Brice Stadium needed instant replay to determine whether Deandre Baker had dropped the ball before he crossed the goal-line, the senior linebacker was pretty sure Baker had and he wasn’t going to take any chances with it.
Taylor scooped up the ball in the end zone following Baker’s apparent 56-yard interception return and he was credited for the touchdown on a play that would give Georgia an early 7-0 lead against South Carolina. It was the first defensive touchdown of Taylor’s football career, high school and rec ball included.
— Cam Mellor (@PFF_Cam) September 8, 2018
Taylor was actually trailing Baker by a good 10 yards on the play, but he said he was fairly certain Baker hadn’t crossed the plane when he dropped the ball out of his left hand.
“I was well aware of it,” Taylor said. “It just didn’t look right when he threw the ball down. We always practice any ball on the ground, just scoop it up. So that’s what I did. It was an immediate reaction.”
Baker actually let go of the ball just inside the 1-yard line. The forward momentum of Baker’s movement actually carried the ball into the end zone, where Taylor scooped it up with two hands and proceeded into the end zone celebration.
It would be a few minutes before the official scorekeepers would sort it out. In the end, Baker was credited with an interception and 55-yard return and Taylor got a fumble recovery, one-yard return and touchdown.
“Yeah, I’m glad it happened,” Taylor said with a laugh.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart wasn’t. Like Taylor, he was pretty sure he saw the ball leave Baker’s hand before he reached the goal line and told Baker so when he came to the sideline. Baker said after the game it wasn’t until then that he realized what he’d done.
College players often drop the ball as soon as they cross the goal line, just like NFL players often spike in the end zone after that score. Smart said it’s being addressed in Georgia’s practices.
“He’ll get some extra practice doing it today,” Smart said Monday.
Unfortunately for Baker it robbed the senior of what would have been the first “pick-6” of his career. But it didn’t nothing to detract from a red-letter day in which the senior cornerback shut down South Carolina’s ballyhooed wide receiver Deebo Samuel and collected six tackles and two pass break-ups in addition to the interception.
Plus, he felt good for his teammate.
“I was happy for Juwan,” Baker said after the game.
Taylor said he didn’t realize until the game was over he’d been credited with the score. He, of course, then said something to Baker about it.
“He was kind of mad he didn’t get his pick-6, but he was happy for me, in a way,” Taylor said with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Taylor continues to have a strong senior season. He got his second consecutive start of the year against the Gamecocks, this time alongside fellow senior Natrez Patrick, and finished with four tackles in the game while rotating with Tae Crowder and Monty Rice.
“Everybody’s just buying in with what Coach Smart wants us to do,” Taylor said. “We’re just flying around, being relentless, playing real physical.”