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September 23, 2013

Savage settles in with Pitt's offense

Tom Savage thought he might have some rust. After all, more than 1,000 days had elapsed since he last threw a pass in a college football game, so chances were high that he would start the 2013 season a bit slow.

And perhaps that rust led to the four interceptions Savage threw in the first two games of the season. Perhaps that rust led to a few sacks and a seeming propensity for staring down a receiver.

After Savage's performance on Saturday in Pitt's 58-55 win over Duke, it's safe to say the rust is gone.

"It's definitely starting to slow down," Savage said following the game. "It's fun now. I'm having a good time. The team makes it easy for me and the coaches do a great job."

"I already knew since Tom got here that he was a heck of a player," redshirt junior receiver Kevin Weatherspoon said after the game. "Even on scout team, he was just doing his thing. I knew he had it in him, but I knew he hadn't been on the field in a while. But we all had faith in him. We all just said, 'No matter what, we've got your back.'

"Once he started getting more relaxed and comfortable and making his throws and the linemen were blocking, you can feel it coming along really well."

If Saturday is a glimpse of what Pitt's passing game can be with Savage feeling comfortable, the rest of the ACC needs to take notice, as the redshirt senior put in one of the best performances by a Pitt quarterback in recent memory.

In the three-point win, Savage completed 70% of his passes for 424 yards and six touchdowns. No Pitt quarterback had thrown six touchdowns in a game since Pete Gonzalez tossed seven in 1997, and Savage's passing yardage was the most by a Pitt quarterback since John Ryan threw for 433 in 1994.

And Savage did his damage in a variety of ways Saturday, hitting Devin Street for a 67-yard catch-and-run, launching a bomb to Tyler Boyd for a 69-yard score, firing a bullet to Scott Orndoff to score from 17 yards out, and floating a fade pass to Street for a 21-yard score.

Savage has added sharpness and decisiveness to his considerable physical tools - namely, his strong arm - and he is now ranked No. 9 nationally in pass efficiency, No. 11 in passing touchdowns, No. 19 in passing yards per game and No. 25 in points responsible for. He is also No. 1 in the ACC in passing yards per game and No. 2 in pass efficiency and total offense.

In recognition of his performance against Duke, Savage was named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week.

For his part, Savage thinks he's got it easy.

"Stat-wise, it was pretty good," he said of his showing on Saturday, "but I think it's easy to do that with those kinds of guys. I think anybody can throw those bombs and be protected by our offensive line."

Savage put up huge numbers in the first half against Duke, but his biggest throw came in the fourth quarter with Pitt clinging to a three-point lead and facing a third-and-7. There were two minutes and five seconds left in the game, and after a timeout Savage dropped back and fired a pass to Weatherspoon on the left sideline.

Weatherspoon made the catch - a fairly remarkable story in and of itself, and the Panthers sealed the win.

"That's what you dream for as a quarterback," Savage said. "Third down, you can win the game with a first down; 'Spoon came up with a big catch for me and the offensive line did a great job protecting. It was fun."







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