Because Pickens was such a high-profile prospect, because he’s from the state of Alabama and because his change of allegiance was so late in coming, there were immediate — and completely unsubstantiated — accusations of cheating from Auburn fans on social media and in fan-site chatrooms.
Georgia Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart talks about this week's opponent - the Auburn Tigers. (Video by Chip Towers/AJC)
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was uncharacteristically transparent on the Bulldogs’ recruitment of Pickens when asked about it Monday at UGA’s media availability.
"George is a kid that we recruited all the way throughout (the process)," Smart said. "He came over to a couple home games, we had him over in the summer. I mean, he's a kid that had been here several times. He played on a 7-on-7 team out of Georgia. So, he got to spend a lot of time with a lot of the kids we recruited. Didn't really know until very late (that he was going to sign with UGA). I forget exactly when it was, but I thought in our home visit it was very obvious that he was thinking about making some change."
As for what initiated Pickens' change of heart, Smart said: "He saw the ability to throw the ball at our place, and he saw three guys leaving, you know. Once we had three guys leave our team (early), it cleared things up for him. He thought he was going to be able to have an impact and decided to come."
Pickens definitely has had an impact.
Heading into the ninth game, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound freshman has played in every game, with one start. He has 389 yards on 29 catches (three fewer than team leader Lawrence Cager) and is tied for the team lead with four touchdown catches.
Pickens would have one more score had a spectacular 68-yard catch and run against Missouri Saturday not been nullified penalty. That the penalty for illegal formation was on Pickens for lining up in the backfield speaks to the some of the frustration the Bulldogs have encountered on the field. As it was, Pickens finished with two touchdowns on five receptions for 67 yards.
Pickens’ fiery nature also has brought him unwanted attention at time. He has drawn at least one personal foul penalty this season for taunting a defender after a play, and teammates have been quick to ensnare him in hugs to keep his post-catch celebrations short. The good news is Pickens probably leads the team and celebration-worthy catches.
Smart was asked if keeping Pickens’ emotions in check is something the coaches are addressing with him this week.
“I realize what you're pointing at and saying it will be emotional, that he was committed to them for a long timed, but that doesn't take away from what happens when you step inside the lines,” Smart said on Monday. “I mean, when you step inside the lines you have to go execute; you have to focus on the task at hand; you have to block out all the noise and the outside stuff. You have to go play. That doesn't change week-to-week.”