George Pickens-Georgia football-College Football Playoff
during the Bulldogs' game with Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)
Tony Walsh

Kirby Smart shares where things stand with George Pickens entering College Football Playoff

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Where things stand with George Pickens entering the College Football Playoff

A big bowl game performance would be nothing new for George Pickens. As a freshman, he hauled in 12 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown in Georgia’s Suger Bowl win over Baylor. From a statistical standpoint, it’s still the best game the talented receiver has played.

His second-best game as a Bulldog was also in a bowl game, as he caught seven passes for 135 yards and a touchdown in the Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati. Pickens proved instrumental in both of those contests, which were both Georgia wins.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Pickens’ performance in those games didn’t have anything to do with the extra practices beforehand or the lack of other responsibilities in the lead-up to the bowl games. He believes it had more to do with Baylor and Cincinnati electing to stop the run and leaving Pickens in one-on-one coverage on the outside.

The Bulldogs’ next game is technically a bowl game, as they play Michigan as a part of the Orange Bowl. The event also doubles as a College Football Playoff semifinal. Georgia could greatly benefit from another amazing performance from Pickens.

That will be easier said than done though, given Pickens is still recovering from his ACL injury.

“He is still not 100 percent. George is working really hard but we see him every day,” Smart said. “Getting to see him every day, he is working back to get that way but he is not there. But nobody is! There is no person on Earth that comes back from an ACL and is back out there and running the same speed, confidence and breaks that you would usually have.”

Pickens did not make his season debut until Georgia’s final game of the regular season. He made just one catch in the win over Georgia Tech. The junior wide receiver was able to see an uptick in snaps and receptions against Alabama, playing 12 snaps and catching two passes.

One of those was a 37-yard reception, the longest completion of the game for Stetson Bennett. It was a glimpse, even fleeting, of the old Pickens. The one who effortlessly floats like he is Spider-Man.

“He has only been starting to get these reps within the last two to three weeks. But he is getting better and he is working hard at his craft and he has gotten a lot of reps in the last four to five practices.”

A healthier Pickens makes the entire Georgia offense more dynamic. He pulls safeties out of the box, opening more holes for Georgia’s running backs. He forces defenses to choose between doubling Brock Bowers and Pickens himself. Doubling both wouldn’t be practical, as it would also open things up for some of Georgia’s other wide receivers.

However, Smart did note that Ladd McConkey has missed some practice time as of late. While Smart expects McConkey to be fine, he has been Georgia’s leading wide receiver this season. If he’s compromised — a common theme for every Georgia receiver this season — it could put an even bigger onus on the plate of Pickens.

In the run-up to the game against Michigan, much will be made of what Georgia does at the quarterback position. Do the Bulldogs stick with Bennett or switch to JT Daniels? Statistically, Pickens’ best games in 2020 came with Daniels at the helm.

Related: Kirby Smart evasive on quarterback questions, updates Georgia injury status ahead of Michigan game

A healthier Pickens helps both quarterbacks. He helps the entire offense. With the current state of his injury, it’s just a question of how much Pickens will be able to help against a physical Michigan defense.

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