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Pitt notebook: Savage earns Chryst praise

| Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, 5:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage throws against Notre Dame on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, at Heinz Field.

In the aftermath of Pitt's biggest victory since the coaching upheaval of 2010 and '11, coach Paul Chryst was asked about his quarterback.

And why not? Nothing defines a football team more than the player who handles the ball most of the time.

Tom Savage is showing improvement, completing two-thirds of his attempts (78 of 117) for 783 yards and six touchdowns in the past four games. So Chryst wasn't surprised Savage threw two touchdown passes Saturday to help the Panthers defeat Notre Dame, 28-21.

“I don't think we learned anything new about him,” Chryst said. “It's kind of who he is. It's how he's been.

“Tom hasn't been, wasn't (Saturday night) and won't be, none of us will be perfect. But he plays the game. He competed, and that rubs off.”

Savage, a fifth-year senior, has thrown only one interception since the Virginia game Sept. 28 and looks more comfortable in the pocket, taking only four total sacks in three of the past four games.

Chryst gave Savage one of the best compliments a coach can pay to his quarterback: “He protected the ball.”

The offense's turn

Savage said the offense came together on the game-winning drive better than it has all season.

“We all kind of looked at each other on the sideline and said, ‘This is time,' ” he said. “It's time to go out there and answer because I think we were due.

“We knew it was our time and our turn to step up and make a play.”

Conner's time

Running back James Conner admitted he has struggled in recent weeks — even into the first half of the Notre Dame game — but he recovered to score twice, including the decisive touchdown.

“I felt I was running kind of soft earlier in the first half, and I decided that I have a big body (6-foot-2, 230 pounds), and I had to use it to get inside the end zone,” Conner said. “I felt it was time to get back in the groove and set it back up.

“The game was on ABC, and I wanted to get my name out there.”

Notable

With playmakers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd at wide receiver, Pitt doesn't throw an excessive number of passes to its tight ends. But Manasseh Garner of Brashear has 11 receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown in the past five games. His season totals: 16 catches, 164 yards, two touchdowns. ... Six of the seven teams in the Coastal Division of the ACC have two or three losses, with Pitt (2-3) in sixth place. Georgia Tech (5-2) leads the pack. ... Pitt has recovered six fumbles, each by a different player (all freshmen and sophomores).

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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