Pitt holds off Virginia; Savage suffers concussion symptoms
Victory was painful and potentially costly Saturday to Pitt and quarterback Tom Savage, who left Heinz Field with concussion symptoms after the Panthers used defense — and little else of significance — to defeat Virginia, 14-3.
Pitt stretched its winning streak to three for the first time since 2010. The Panthers, who improved to 2-1 against ACC opponents, are 3-1 for the sixth time in the past 12 seasons. In four of the previous five such seasons, Pitt went on to win 8 to 10 games.
But there was little reason for Pitt to celebrate, other than a dominant defensive effort against a Virginia offense that struggled on the ground and through the air.
“It was a great win for us in the sense of where we're at,” said coach Paul Chryst, who realizes players and coaches still have a big job ahead of them during the upcoming off week.
But he said he “loved how the script was flipped,” with Pitt allowing Virginia no touchdowns and 188 yards a week after Duke crossed the goal line eight times and amassed 532 yards in a 58-55 Panthers victory.
Pitt's defense was in such control that it forced six three-and-out series among Virginia's 16 drives. The Cavaliers didn't gain their fifth first down until the final three minutes of the third quarter.
“The defense played very, very well and brought a lot of energy,” Chryst said. “They were cutting it loose, and that was fun to see.”
But he added, “Offensively we struggled to get any type of rhythm going.”
Even before he was injured, Savage was under siege most of the day from a pass rush that Pitt's line couldn't control. He was sacked seven times and hit in the head at the end of a 14-yard scramble on the last snap of the third quarter. He was pulled from the game late in the fourth quarter.
He played two series and eight plays after the hit by Virginia linebacker Daquan Romero. Among those plays, he was sacked twice in the fourth quarter and also was hit while completing a 32-yard pass to Devin Street.
A Pitt spokesman said medical personnel on the sideline did not permit Savage to return to the game as soon as they were aware he was experiencing concussion symptoms. Backup quarterback Chad Voytik played Pitt's final series, starting with 3:30 left in the game.
“He wasn't OK,” Street said of Savage's demeanor. “He wanted to say he was OK, but he was gagging. He wanted to throw up. I think he got his bell rung for sure.”
Street said he coaxed Savage not to return to the game.
“He found his helmet and was trying to get in there,” Street said. “I kind of talked to him and told him about the big picture.”
Chryst said Savage was examined on the sideline.
“He went and saw everyone,” Chryst said. “I thought it was best to go with Chad.”
Receiver Tyler Boyd said he noticed something was wrong with Savage as he helped him off the ground after the Romero hit.
“He was in there looking wavy, looking drowsy, like he wasn't right,” Boyd said. “I kept telling him, ‘You are cool? You have to stay level with us.'
“He said he was cool, but I knew it was something that was bothering him, but I didn't know what it was.”
Savage was not available for comment.
No penalty was called on the play, even though the NCAA has instituted a rule this season that hits to the helmet are cause for ejection.
“I thought it was a bad call,” Street said.
Chryst didn't go that far.
“I really believe there is not one official that isn't for (preventing such hits),” he said. “And I'm going to stop there.”
Before he left the game, Savage completed 13 of 31 passes for 191 yards and two interceptions. He has thrown two interceptions in three of four games.
Pitt scored its only points in the first quarter, thanks to mistakes by Virginia (2-2, 0-1), which was playing its first road game this season.
First, Virginia punt returner Dominique Terrell allowed a bouncing Pitt punt to hit him in the foot. Panthers cornerback Trenton Coles recovered at the Cavaliers 19. Pitt scored when James Conner bowled over free safety Brandon Phelps on a 6-yard run.
“I just tried to lower my shoulder, and he was in the way,” Conner said. “Next time he'll get out of the way, I guess.”
Later, quarterback David Watford fumbled a snap, and linebacker Bam Bradley recovered at the Virginia 18. Savage responded by lofting a perfectly thrown 15-yard touchdown pass to Street, who was well-covered in the back corner of the end zone.
But the Pitt offense was shut out after that. Pitt failed to convert 13 of 18 third-down plays. Taking away 69 yards lost on sacks, Pitt's ground game totaled 8 yards. Conner carried 15 times for 27 yards.
Boyd, who went over 100 yards receiving for the third consecutive week (seven receptions, 111 yards), said Virginia killed the tempo of Pitt's offense.
“Tom was getting a whole lot of pressure,” he said.