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Pitt senior quarterback Savage running out of time in his college career

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Pitt's Tom Savage drops back to pass against Duke on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C.

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Senior slump

Pitt senior quarterback Tom Savage's statistic line since he threw for 424 yards — fourth-most in school history — and six touchdowns against Duke on Sept. 21:

Completions 57

Attempts 104

Yards per game 171.2

Touchdowns 4

Interceptions 2

Sacks 18

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 10:12 p.m.
 

Tom Savage's season — indeed, his Pitt career — will end not long after it started.

In fact, by this time next month, the fifth-year senior quarterback could be a former Pitt player if the Panthers (4-3) fail to secure a bowl bid. That leaves Savage with a rapidly closing window on his college career that included three schools, two years off and only one season — this one — where he must make up for lost time.

“I have to play like I have nothing to lose,” he said, recognizing a sense of urgency attached to this season. “I can't play timid.”

Savage's season has played out like a roller-coaster ride — and not just because he has been hot and cold. A head injury in the fourth game left him a bit woozy and wouldn't allow him to finish the 14-3 victory against Virginia. He was cleared by Pitt's doctors and hasn't missed a start.

Asked if Savage has shown any lingering effects from the blow to the head, coach Paul Chryst was emphatic with his answer.

“I don't believe so at all,” he said.

But Savage's productivity and effectiveness have fallen since he produced one of the greatest games in Pitt history for a quarterback when he threw for 424 yards and six touchdowns in a 58-55 victory against Duke on Sept. 21. The Blue Devils' defense appeared weak that day, but Duke has won four in a row since losing to Pitt and allowed Navy seven points and Virginia Tech 10.

But in the past four games — including before he was injured against Virginia — Savage has completed 54.8 percent of his passes and surpassed 200 yards once (203 last week against Navy).

No one knows Savage better or works closer with him than quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger, and he has noticed a sense of urgency around the way his quarterback prepares.

“When you get (older), you realize you don't have that many opportunities to strap it up,” Bollinger said.

Savage often has been the victim of his own mistakes, but Pitt's offensive line hasn't always protected him well, either. Plus, the running game has been inconsistent — leaning toward consistently ineffective — and is ranked 12th in the ACC as it prepares for the game Saturday against Georgia Tech (second in the conference in run defense).

The sacks have diminished dramatically from a total of 15 against Virginia and Virginia Tech to only three the past two weeks. Savage hasn't been shy about moving his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame out of the pocket and out of danger.

Happy feet?

“He's too slow to get happy feet,” Bollinger said, laughing. “Like anybody, he is just out there trying to compete and make plays. He has worked to know when to get the ball out of his hands and to know when he has time to read it out and understand the situation of the game.”

Unfortunately for Pitt, Savage may not be around long enough to approach his potential.

“His ceiling is somewhere out here,” Bollinger said, raising his arm above his head. “I think he is still climbing into the player that he can be.”

Savage continues to progress, Chryst said. But one aspect of his game remains constant.

“I'm not saying he played perfect (last week),” Chryst said. “But he plays the game hard, and I respect that.”

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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