George Pickens thrives in bowl season. What can the UGA wide receiver do against Michigan?

Marc Weiszer
Athens Banner-Herald
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Dec 4, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver George Pickens (1) catches a pass over Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry (1) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

DANIA BEACH, Fla. — Kirby Smart’s message to George Pickens before the SEC championship game was to make the most of whatever his role turned out to in his second game back this season.

“Be patient today because you know you’re not in everything so you can’t get frustrated when you’re not in, OK?,” the Georgia coach told Pickens on the field pregame in a conversation aired on a behind the scenes playoff show on ESPN+. “You may get 10 catches, you may get one, you may get zero but help everybody else.”

Pickens had two catches for 41 yards against Alabama, but nearly four weeks later he could have a larger role in Georgia’s national semifinal game against Michigan in the Orange Bowl Friday night at Hard Rock Stadium.

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After all, bowl season seems to be Pickens’ season.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior had seven catches for 135 yards in a Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati last season and was Sugar Bowl MVP after a 12-reception, 175-yard, 1 TD showing against Baylor.

“George is a baller,” tight end John Fitzpatrick said. “Everybody knows that. He’s going to make plays whenever he’s on the field.”

Pickens hasn’t been on the field much this season.

The Hoover, Ala, native tore an ACL in the spring, throwing his season in doubt and leaving the question of if his next snap in a game may come in the NFL.

“George has done a fantastic job of working to get back, to give himself a chance to play at the back end of this season,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Tuesday. “When I think back to the spring when he injured his knee and thinking, wow, what a disappointment for him and his development and for us. But he has done a fantastic job of trying to get back. There are going to be some things that he's continued to work through, trusting the knee, obviously reps.”

Monken said he expects Pickens to play against Michigan. His arrival to Miami was delayed until Monday evening as he went through Georgia’s COVID-19 protocols.

“Everyone has seen George play and knows he's capable of doing,” Bulldogs wide receiver Kearis Jackson said. “He's been a great addition to this team, him being able to come back from that injury has been tremendous for not only for himself, but for the team, as well, and just him being out there brings a different atmosphere to the game.”

Pickens went up to grab a 37-yard pass against Alabama.

Can he step up his game by making more big plays and how much more can he do?

He is only nine months removed from the ACL injury.

“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,” Smart said. “He continues to get better, the biggest part is understanding all the intricacies of the offense. Making sure he understands splits, shifts, motions, IDs and when you don’t do that for that long I think everybody just assumes it comes back naturally. But that is not something you just wake up and do, it takes reps to do.”

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There isn’t much film on Pickens from this season, but certainly there is from the 24 total games as a Bulldog when he’s made 88 catches for 1,286 yards and 14 touchdowns,

“He’s definitely a good receiver,” said Michigan cornerback D.J. Turner, who played at IMG Academy in Florida. “I’ve known him. I played him in high school, too. I know what he can do. I know he’s coming off of injury. He’s played the last couple of games. I’m expecting him to be out there this game.”

Pickens’ development has been stunted by essentially missing two spring practices, the first because of the pandemic.

“Then he missed a couple of games the year before,” Monken said. “So he's still a young developing player, and we're still trying to work him in and to make sure that he can help us offensively and most importantly help us win with what he can do at this point. But he's done a great job of getting back and helping this team.”

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