Throughout last week, Deandre Baker refused to get into a Twitter war with South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who tried to bait him by pretending that he’d never heard of Baker, Georgia’s preseason All-America cornerback.
As he walked off the field at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, the Bulldogs reveling in their 41-17 thrashing of the Gamecocks, Baker did allow himself a moment of indulgence.
“They know who I am now,” Baker said.
How could they not? Baker held Samuel to 33 yards receiving.
“I got to show the world, whoever doubted me, I know what I can do. I’ve got to show them. Now they see.” His tone was more matter of fact than boastful. That was the extent of Baker’s, um, crowing, even if he had all the right in the world to gloat. Playing for head coach Kirby Smart can have that effect. But he acknowledged feeling a measure of satisfaction.
“I don’t really pay attention to that,” Baker said. “But you know it’s hard not to when everybody in the country is blowing up my phone saying what some other guy said.”
Baker was just as content talking about his defensive teammates, especially the young pups facing their first real test, such as freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell.
A game that Georgia controlled from the opening minutes, with the Bulldogs taking a 14-0 lead just three minutes into the game, changed on a mistake by Campbell. He bit on a lateral to Samuel and allowed Bryan Edwards to get open in the end zone for an easy touchdown.
“I told him, ‘You have to have amnesia.’ It happens to the best of the corners,” Baker said. “You learn from it and you just move on.”
Campbell would get burned by Edwards again, but by that time the game was already decided. In between, Campbell did not play like a true freshman.
“He was great. He went back out there. He was ready,” Baker said.
It was expected that South Carolina would try to get Samuel matched up on Campbell. So much so that Baker played both right and left cornerback all week in practice.
“If he went to the bathroom, I was going with him,” Baker said.
Fortunately for all involved, it never came down to that.
But at times, it seemed that South Carolina was determined to beat Baker. He wasn’t sure if that was by design or by happenstance.
“I don’t know what they were doing, but I loved it,” Baker said. “I loved being targeted. Then I can show what I can do.”
They wasted no time doing it. Baker broke up the first pass attempt his way. Then he was called for pass interference on what appeared to be an uncatchable ball. That set up the first big play. Jake Bentley’s pass was tipped by linebacker D’Andre Walker. Baker grabbed the deflection and raced to the end zone.
“Once I saw the ball pop up, I’m just praying that I catch it. Once I caught it, I looked up. There were blockers in front of me and only the quarterback to beat. I was just hoping I would get to the goalline without any penalties.”
But Baker got away with a monumental mistake. He let go of the football before he crossed the goal line. Seemingly nobody but teammate Juwan Taylor realized what had happened. Taylor scooped up the football in the end zone for the touchdown.
“When you score on defense,” Smart said, “your probability of winning goes up about 80-90 percent.”
The young defense was supposed to be the Bulldogs’ biggest concern this season, especially having to face Bentley on the road in the second game of the season. The fact that they grew up Saturday should alleviate any concerns about Georgia taking a step back from last season.
“Oh, my gosh. I was so happy,” said senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter. “I’m so proud of those guys, the guys who haven’t played in a game like this. Last week was their first college football game. Honestly, I get butterflies. You just have to know how to handle that. You have to put pressure on yourself, not anxiety. We stressed that today. We just told those guys to go out and have fun. Loosen up. Practice is always harder than the game. If you can do it in practice, you can do it in the game.”
The challenge now is to guard against overconfidence. Road games to Missouri and LSU await. There’s still the Florida game in Jacksonville. Even if they get through all of that, they still have to face Auburn.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Smart said. “I know you guys are going to write, ‘This is a great win.’ It is a great win. But at the end of the day, we have to get better. We made too many boneheaded mistakes that when we play a better team we will struggle. That’s the goal for us. Continue to get better.”
For the rest of the SEC -- OK, save Alabama -- that’s a scary thought.