Through eight games, two surprises from No. 9 Georgia’s wide receiving corps had been the emergence of redshirt sophomore Kearis Jackson and freshman Jermaine Burton. A third, for all the wrong reasons, was the absence of George Pickens.
Jackson and Burton were responsible for the Bulldogs’ two 100-yard games from the position group after Jackson’s 147 against Auburn and Burton’s 197 against Mississippi State. Even junior running back James Cook reached the century mark in receiving yards, with 101 in Georgia’s 41-24 loss to Alabama.
But in Georgia’s 49-14 rout of No. 25 Missouri, Pickens’ day finally came, as he finished with five receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
"That was the first [game] you really got where nobody's playing help [defense] on George," said quarterback JT Daniels during the postgame press conference. "It was George one on one, and that's what it looks like when it's George one on one. ... A 50-50 ball with George is an 80-20 ball."
It was a much-anticipated performance from Pickens. As a freshman last season, he was Georgia’s leading receiver in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Perhaps it should’ve been expected. Saturday was the second game of Pickens’ career featuring two receiving touchdowns with the first also coming against Missouri in last year’s 27-0 victory.
Daniels looked Pickens’ way nine times on Saturday, the first coming on Daniels’ opening pass attempt that went for 7 yards. The Bulldogs had nine pass plays of over 15 yards, and Pickens was responsible for four of them, as his next four receptions went for 29, 36, 31 and 23 yards respectively.
Pickens’ big-play ability showed up at critical times in the second quarter. After Georgia’s worst sequence of special teams plays near the end of the first half — one that involved a muffed punt by Jackson and a blocked punt off the leg of junior Jake Camarda — its defense allowed a game-tying touchdown to Missouri running back Larry Rountree.
At that moment, all momentum was in Missouri’s favor, and it seemed as if Georgia, which was nearly a two-touchdown favorite against the Tigers, would enter halftime tied. But six plays later, Pickens battled through a pass interference to haul in his first touchdown of the evening, flipping the momentum once again.
"Every time you don't think he can catch it, he catches it," said head coach Kirby Smart during the postgame press conference. "He finds a way to get the ball and catch it."
Pickens' season-best performance wasn’t needed for Georgia’s 35-point victory. The Bulldogs' rushing attack finished with 316 yards and four touchdowns. Although a performance like this from Pickens took nine games, it’s yet another reason for Georgia fans to look forward to what’s in store for this offense.
"George still hasn't reached his full potential," Smart said. "I think people just see him and think, 'Man, he's a phenomenal wideout.' He can work on his releases and win one on ones even more often."