Pitt corner Avonte Maddox ready for fast-paced Oklahoma State
In his mind, Avonte Maddox makes perfect sense when he describes playing No. 9 Oklahoma State this way: "It ain't fun, but it's fun."
Fun because Pitt gets another chance Saturday to play a top-10 team after losing to No. 5 Penn State, 33-14, last week. The games mark the first time since 2006 Pitt played top-10 teams in consecutive weeks (losses to West Virginia and Louisville, both ranked No. 8).
It's another step toward Pitt's annual quest for relevancy and an opportunity to soar beyond the good, but not good enough 8-5 records of the past two seasons.
Not so much fun because Oklahoma State plays at a frenetic tempo with, perhaps, the nation's top quarterback/receiver/back triumvirate (Mason Rudolph, James Washington and Justice Hill).
"They get the ball hiked in 22 seconds," Maddox said. "They come back and hike it in 9. Once you make a play, you have to get home and be ready to make the next play."
Maddox could have even more fun by keeping Washington in check and quieting the critics of Pitt's secondary (if they mattered to him, which they don't).
A year ago, Washington caught nine passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns against Pitt in Stillwater, Okla., many of those plays with Maddox in pursuit.
After practice Tuesday, Maddox was calm when discussing Washington. If redemption is on his mind — and it is — he knows talking about it won't help.
And those people who believe Maddox, at 5-foot-9, can't cover the 6-foot, 205-pound Washington just aren't worth the breath required to discuss them, he said.
"I don't look at (social media)," Maddox said. "I don't really care what they say. If they are, kudos. I don't see it. Keep going for it."
Maddox, a senior co-captain, respects Washington, but also knows what makes him effective.
"He can high point the ball. He can grab it, snatch it from you," Maddox said. "The quarterback (Rudolph) puts it in a great spot to where it's hard for corners to get it."
Washington is considered a leading candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, a 2018 first-round draft choice (according to Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi) and the nation's best senior pass catcher (according to Mel Kiper). His athletic prowess at Stamford (Texas) High School ranges from what you'd expect (state champion in football, all-district in basketball) to the unexpected (he was part a tennis doubles tandem that reached the state quarterfinals).
When word spread in the offseason that he had a hernia and might miss the first four games (the fake news brought 60 text messages to his phone), Washington laughed and told the Tulsa World he's had the hernia "since birth, probably."
Then, he went out and caught eight passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games.
On Saturday, Maddox will attempt to shadow Washington, but Oklahoma State lines up so quickly that Pitt might have to settle for sophomore cornerback Dane Jackson or freshman Damarri Mathis.
"We don't want to get caught doing a lot of things," Maddox said. "Get lined up and get ready to play."
No matter who gets the Washington assignment, attempting to bump him off his route at the line of scrimmage will be a priority.
Jackson has been Pitt's second-best cornerback all summer and through the first two games.
"I guess it's been pretty good," Jackson said of his play. "I'm just trying to match AM (Maddox)."
And, if possible, match Washington, stride for stride.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.