Quarterback Savage, Pitt to face test with Virginia coming to town

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 11:33 p.m.

Although Pitt is 2-1 and looking like its offense might be for real, don't forget:

• The two victories have come against New Mexico and Duke, teams ranked tied for 72nd and 97th, respectively, in sacks and tied for 89th in interceptions. The pocket has been a comfortable place for quarterback Tom Savage to start rebuilding his resume.

• Pitt has been 2-1 or better eight other times since 2002. Pitt fans have seen — and been disappointed by — this act in the past.

So, it's important not to become overly excited when discussing the possibility of Pitt developing a legitimate deep passing game. But the ingredients are there.

Savage, a fifth-year senior transfer whose next move may be to pro football, is seventh in the nation and second in the ACC in yards per attempt (11.0). That's unusually high and will settle down as video of Savage, who never played in the conference before this year, circulates. Plus, five of Pitt's final eight games are against schools ranked or getting votes in the Associated Press Top 25.

By comparison:

• When Rod Rutherford set the single-season school record for passing yards in 2003 (3,679), his average was only 8.9.

• The ACC record is 10, set by Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton in 1999.

But Pitt coach Paul Chryst said the combination of Savage's strong arm and the talented pass catchers around him makes it more feasible to call deep throws.

“If you have guys on the other end of (the throws), it does,” Chryst said. “That's where Devin (Street) and Tyler (Boyd) have been playing well. Spoon (Kevin Weatherspoon) made some plays for us (against Duke). Tight ends are starting to contribute. One without the other doesn't do you a lot of good.”

Of Savage, he said: “He has an arm that can get to all spots on the field.”

The Pitt offense could struggle as soon as Saturday against Virginia, which is third in the ACC in passing defense (140 yards per game) while leading the conference — by a wide margin — in completion percentage allowed (37 percent).

Virginia coach Mike London said “first and foremost, (Pitt) wants to run the ball.” But he added, “(Savage) exhibited a skill to throw the ball that makes him pretty special.”

Savage, who leads the ACC in passing yards per game (287), has gained his coaches' trust, with Chryst praising his decision-making and poise against Duke.

Beyond this season, Savage may have an NFL future, according to ESPN college football analyst Kevin Weidl, who played quarterback at Mt. Lebanon and Indiana (Pa.).

“In terms of physical ability, I think it's there. For the most part, he made some impressive, impressive throws,” said Weidl, who attended the Duke game.

“I talked to a few (NFL) scouts and he's not a throwaway prospect. They think he can be a late-round or priority free agent.

“You wish he had a little more athleticism as far as avoiding the rush, but there is no question he has the stature and arm strength and can make all the throws.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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