Stuffed with his mom’s stuffing, Jordan Addison and his Pitt teammates, some of whom took advantage of his open invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, will report back to work Friday.
The holiday emerged while Pitt (9-2, 6-1 ACC) was getting ready for its game Saturday against Syracuse (5-6, 2-5) at the Carrier Dome. Forget that other game next week. If players listened to their coaches, they should be unbuckling their belts after a nice meal and keeping those thoughts about the ACC Championship Game far in the back of their minds.
Until Sunday. When it becomes real.
Holidays always coincide with the most important games of the football season, but this one didn’t disrupt Calijah Kancey’s game prep.
“I’m kind of used to practicing and playing around Thanksgiving since Little League football,” he said.
For a good reason, too.
“Always been winning,” said the sophomore defensive tackle who planned to visit several teammates’ homes for dinner.
The trick for Pitt is to maintain focus while celebrating its ACC Coastal championship and Thanksgiving.
Addison, who could win the Biletnikoff Award with another big-time effort Saturday, said he’s treating the week like any other. Except, he gets to spend it with family. His mom, Keisha Blackman, is cooking, he said.
“It’s another game. That means it’s a big game,” he said. “I know I’m not looking ahead. I have to make sure the receivers aren’t, as well.
“Every week is a new opportunity for me. I’m not thinking about the award. I’m just trying to put myself in position to help the team win.”
There is some thought that the prudent move for coach Pat Narduzzi on Saturday would be to rest his most important players to avoid an injury that could affect their participation the following week. He said he won’t do that.
When he was asked Monday about resting players, he said he didn’t anticipate a significant diversion from a normal week.
“That would be a natural question. ‘Let’s go up there and keep them all healthy and play our backups and get ready for the championship game.’ I would love to do that, but I don’t see us doing that.”
That’s easy to say five days before the game, but it will be interesting to see if Narduzzi decides to risk Addison on punt returns. Addison said he doesn’t think he’ll play less from scrimmage.
“I don’t think it will affect my usage. We want to win any and every game,” he said. “This is a big game, too. Last game of the season. It’s (Syracuse’s) Senior Day. They’re trying to get into a bowl game. We have to treat this game like it is a championship.”
The game also presents a different challenge for Pitt.
The Panthers have faced three of the top six quarterbacks in the ACC — Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong, Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke and North Carolina’s Sam Howell — and allowed an average of 403 aerial yards per game and a total of eight touchdowns through the air.
Kenny Pickett carried Pitt to victory in two of those games, but Pitt lost to a decidedly average Miami team.
Now, the challenge is to stop Syracuse’s ground game.
It will be an interesting confrontation. The Orange can boast of the only ground attack in the ACC averaging more than 225 yards per game (230.6). Pitt is the only ACC run defense allowing an average of less than 100 (98.8).
Syracuse running back Sean Tucker leads the ACC in rushing with 1,467 yards while quarterback Garrett Shrader has added 783. The pair accounted for more yards on the ground (2,250) than the entire Pitt team, gross (2,021) or net (1,749).
“We’ve been seeing great quarterbacks and running backs all year,” Kancey said. “So, it will be just another game. As a defense, you have to take great angles, you have to tackle, be smart as a D line with our pass rushing lanes.”