Pitt notebook: QB Savage slowing after hot start

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 4:30 p.m.

Pitt quarterback Tom Savage has caught the eye of NFL scouts. At least two of them, ESPN.com's Kevin Weidl and NFL.com's Gil Brandt, have rated him a draftable prospect.

Six touchdowns and 424 yards through the air in one game tend to have that effect.

But since that Duke game, Savage has slumped in terms of big plays. After averaging 11 yards per attempt through the first three games, he has dipped to 6.2 in the past three.

And you can't defend Savage by saying the schedule has gotten more difficult. No. 3 Florida State was included in the first three games; FBS newcomer Old Dominion was among the past three opponents.

Savage was at the mercy of the Virginia Tech pass rush when he threw for 187 yards Oct. 12. But Old Dominion sacked him only twice while running back Isaac Bennett ran for 240 yards Saturday night — perfect conditions for the passing attack.

“I think (Bennett) did a great job and helped take some pressure off the pass game a little bit,” Savage said.

So, what was the problem against the Monarchs, who gave up 58 points to The Citadel?

The absence of senior wide receiver Devin Street (shoulder) was significant. Pitt (4-2) will need to get Street healthy before it returns to ACC play Nov. 2 at Georgia Tech.

Plus, Savage may need to develop a better on-field relationship with his tight ends, especially when Pitt is lacking in other areas (injuries, out-of-sync running game). None of the four young players at the position — J.P. Holtz, Manasseh Garner, Scott Orndoff and Jaymar Parrish — has caught more than two passes in any game.

Midseason success

Pitt has had a winning record at midseason seven previous times since the turn of the century (2000), and in six of those seasons the Panthers finished with at least seven victories.

Former coaches Walt Harris did it four times, Dave Wannstedt three. After the last instance for each man, they were gone within a year.

Score one for House

Defensive coordinator Matt House has been criticized (mainly by disappointed fans on social media) for a defense that has allowed an average of 28.1 points per game.

But safety Ray Vinopal credited House for his interception in the fourth quarter of the 35-24 victory against Old Dominion.

“Our coaches have been putting us in good positions all week,” Vinopal said. “Coach House told us the dig route is coming, so play aggressive, and the corner will protect me.”

It was Pitt's fifth interception of the season, with four of them coming in the Duke game.

Depth at RB

Good teams need at least two running backs to get through a season successfully, and Pitt has them.

Bennett, a junior, has started every game, but trailed James Conner in carries 64-47 before getting 30 against Old Dominion. Conner was in uniform Saturday, but didn't play.

Savage said he has been impressed by Bennett's attitude while Conner stepped to the top of the depth chart.

“He's just the type of guy you want to have on your team,” he said. “Obviously with James coming out and doing what he did, a lot of juniors will just put their heads down, but he always has a smile on his face and he goes out there and loves the game. It couldn't have happened to a better person.”

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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