Pitt QB Savage showing his toughness

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 7:38 p.m.

A month ago in Annapolis, Md., Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd raced far down the right sideline, creating just enough space beyond the Navy cornerback to fit a perfectly thrown football.

Quarterback Tom Savage thought seriously about unleashing his strong right arm and trying to hit Boyd in stride. But Pitt needed a big play — not a risky one.

If Savage has learned anything from coach Paul Chryst in their two years together, it's this: Think first, and consider all possibilities.

So, Savage went through his progressions and saw running back Rachid Ibrahim alone in the opposite flat. The throw did nothing to showcase Savage's physical gifts, but the shorter pass turned into a 21-yard gain that helped Pitt regain the lead.

Up in the broadcast booth, former Pitt quarterback Pat Bostick was impressed.

“That's a big play,” said Bostick, in his third season as a Pitt football analyst. “That's as big as throwing the ball 60 yards down the field. That's getting from one to two to three in your progressions.”

There has been much talk this season about Savage's toughness and physical strength. Bostick, who has followed Pitt football either as a player or analyst since 2007, said Savage's arm is the strongest he has seen in his time at the university.

“I haven't seen a stronger arm with the combination of accuracy and touch that he has,” Bostick said. “It's quite apparent when you watch him throw. He can uncork it with the best of them.”

When he has the time.

Savage has been sacked 40 times in 11 games, and that's only when the defense was able to get him to the ground or force him out of bounds.

“He's probably been hit on 60 to 70 percent of the passes,” Bostick said.

Yet Savage has thrown only eight interceptions in 333 attempts, two in the past seven games — and one of those ricocheted off Boyd's hands.

“I've seen his development amid some pretty tough circumstances at times (this season),” Bostick said, “which speaks to how he works at it.”

Savage works hard because time is running out on him. This season marks his only year of eligibility at Pitt, and he has just two games remaining in his nomadic, collegiate career: Friday against Miami at Heinz Field and a possible bowl game.

No wonder he hasn't missed a start while suffering head, knee and rib injuries.

“I've made the mistake in the past (at Rutgers in 2010), been banged up and came out of the game and, unfortunately, never got back in,” he said. “I'm not coming out unless my leg is hanging off. That's the way it is. I'll tell Doc to give me some medicine or (I will) do what I can.”

Savage is proud to tell you that attitude grew from a simple shake of the head from his father, “the toughest guy I have ever met,” he said.

When Savage was growing up, he hurt his leg in a midget league game. Tom Sr. was seated by himself on a corner of the bleachers.

“I'm limping on the field, I look over to my dad and he gives me a little nod and I keep going,” he said.

In contrast, Savage is only half-kidding when he says his mother Linda wants him to quit.

“She's funny,” Savage said. “After the game, (she says), ‘Are you OK? You can stop playing, if you want. It's fine.' ”

Savage said he endured the hardest hit of the season Saturday at Syracuse when middle linebacker Marquis Spruill hit him in the ribs.

“I kind of lost my breath,” he said. “I remember bending over in the huddle, and they were smiling at me because they know I'm going to keep going.”

After all, it was third down. Despite painful ribs, which turned out to be intact, Savage hit tight end J.P. Holtz for a first down on the next snap.

“He's one of those guys, ‘It starts with me and ends with me,' ” left guard Ryan Schlieper said.

Said Bostick: “That's pure guts. But if you don't have it as a quarterback, I don't care how hard you can throw it or how far you can throw it, you have to have 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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