COLUMBIA, S.C. — “Who?”
That was the response from star South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel when he was asked about Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker on Tuesday.
Baker, who was named a first-team preseason All-American by the Associated Press, made sure from the very first drive of Saturday’s game between No. 3 Georgia and No. 24 South Carolina that he was known by whomever lined up across from him.
On South Carolina’s opening drive, Baker picked off Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley off of a deflection and had a group of blockers ahead.
He raced towards the goal line, but prematurely dropped the ball just before breaking the plain. Luckily for the Bulldogs, linebacker Juwan Taylor was there to pick it up in the end zone to give Georgia a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game.
"I know during big-time games, I step up. That's just who I am."
— Deandre Baker, Georgia defensive back
Despite his nearly catastrophic mistake with the fumble, Baker had made his statement to South Carolina, to the 83,140 fans in attendance and to Samuel himself.
"I proved something,” Baker said after the game. “I didn't really learn much about myself. I know during big-time games, I step up. That's just who I am. I do my thing in big-time games. So, I just let everyone else do the talking and leave the work on the field to show for itself."
Baker’s interception silenced a raucous South Carolina crowd and served as the first big play of many in Georgia’s emphatic 41-17 win over the Gamecocks.
While Baker shrugged off the notion that he was engaged in mind games, he did feel an obligation to make himself noticed by his opponents after Samuel previously denied awareness of Baker’s existence.
"I don't really get into the mental warfare,” Baker said. “I just knew I had to show them who I was because [Samuel] obviously didn't know.”
Baker finished the night third on the team with six total tackles to go along with two pass breakups and one interception.
On the second play from scrimmage, Bentley went at Baker, who was called for pass interference on Samuel on a deep pass. He saw that the Gamecocks were throwing his direction early.
Baker doubts that he was targeted because of Samuel’s comments, but he said that he still relished the opportunity to break up passes. While he was flagged the first time that the Gamecocks went at him, he delivered a critical play just moments later.
“I don’t think that they were challenging [Baker],” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “That’s just where the read went. A lot of the balls were thrown into the boundary. He was in the boundary.”
The senior cornerback also said that he did not remember being singled out publicly by an opposing receiver previously. But he tried to just shrug it off and let his play respond for him.
"I've never been attacked [publicly],” Baker said. “Even if a receiver really doesn't know me, you do a scouting report. You know me. I don't really pay attention to social media. I didn't even know [Samuel] said it until somebody came up to me and showed me the video. I still didn't really care because I knew all of the talking would mean that he would have to show me on the field."