George Pickens bowl: Kirby Smart on freshman's decision to sign with Georgia over Auburn, recruiting battles between the programs
For a long time, it looked like Bo Nix and George Pickens were going to team up on The Plains and become a legendary combination for the Tigers. Unfortunately for Auburn fans, Pickens had a last-second change of heart and flipped to Georgia on National Signing Day stunner in February.
Come Saturday, Auburn fans will have their first opportunity to convey to Pickens that he made a mistake by picking the Bulldogs as Georgia travels to the Plains looking to secure the SEC East division title.
With Pickens coming off one of his best games in a Georgia uniform, the true freshman caught five passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri on Saturday, Kirby Smart was asked to discuss how the young Bulldog receiver would handle his first game against Auburn considering the history with the Tigers.
“They’re all big. I realize what you’re pointing at and saying with it being emotional, that he was committed to them for a long time. But that doesn’t take away from what happens when you step inside the lines,” Smart answered. “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, and you have to go play. That doesn’t change week to week.”
Smart was then asked a follow-up on Georgia’s recruitment of Pickens. If you didn’t follow his recruitment, Pickens was the first prospect to commit to Auburn’s 2019 recruiting class. His original commitment occurred in July of 2017. His official decommitment didn’t come until he put on the Georgia hat during his commitment and signing ceremony.
“George is a kid that we recruited all the way throughout, and came over to a couple home games. We had him over in the summer,” Smart continued. “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. 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.
“He saw the ability to throw the ball at our place, and he saw three guys leaving, you know, and once we had three guys leave our team, two left early in a tight end and a back, it cleared things up for him that he thought he was going to be able to have an impact and decided to come.”
While Georgia beat out Auburn for Pickens, there have been plenty of recruiting battles that Auburn beat out Georgia for over the years. One of the more notable ones being All-American candidate and Peach State native Derrick Brown.
Here is what Smart had to say when asked about the familiarity of these two programs, both on the field and in recruiting wars of the SEC.
“There’s always tough decisions. There are tough decisions on Georgia kids, with Georgia kids,” Smart added. “I mean, there are tough decisions, period, in recruiting because number one, you can’t get everybody you want, and you want to get the ones you want, and you’re never 100 percent on the ones you do want. So you have to make really hard decisions. You try to make them based on intangible factors and things that you think are critical to their success and to your needs.
“And there are a lot of Georgia kids, as you look down this roster, there’s kids that we recruited hard that they beat us on, and then there are some that they didn’t. But at the end of the day, the state line that you grew up in probably doesn’t matter in this game, just like we have some Alabama kids. At the end of the day, it’s going to be about how you play.”
Who knows what will happen come Saturday but there’s a chance the next great Auburn vs. Georgia recruiting battle is won or lost based on the results of the game. For as long as these two programs have been battling on the gridiron, they have been battling nearly that long on the recruiting trail and will continue to do so for as long as both programs continue to exist.