Pitt QB Tom Savage faces stern test vs. Virginia Tech secondary

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Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst said senior quarterback Tom Savage has been cleared to play Saturday against Virginia Tech, which sets up one of the best matchups of the weekend.

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There will be a lot of NFL-level talent on display when Pitt is on offense, specifically with the Panthers' wide receivers and the Hokies' secondary.

Savage took a beating in Pitt's most recent game, a victory over Virginia on Sept. 28 in which he was sacked seven times and suffered concussion-like symptoms.

Savage (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) is averaging 260 passing yards per game and has thrown 10 touchdown passes, including eight in three ACC games. He has the most productive receiving duo in the ACC in senior Devin Street (6-4, 195) and true freshman Tyler Boyd (6-2, 185); they have combined for 44 receptions for 870 yards (19.8 yards per reception) and seven TDs. Street is averaging 21.2 yards on his 21 receptions, and Boyd -- who has exceeded expectations -- is averaging 18.5 yards on his 23 catches.

Savage will be throwing against the ACC's best secondary and one of the top three or four nationally. Virginia Tech is allowing 161.1 passing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the nation. The Hokies lead the nation with 13 interceptions, and Savage has thrown six.

With the addition of senior Antone Exum from a knee injury that had sidelined him, Virginia Tech's corners rival Florida's for the best group in the nation. Exum (6-1, 220) is expected to see his first action of the season pn Saturday, and he joins the Fuller brothers -- senior Kyle (6-0, 194) and freshman Kendall (5-11, 193) -- and freshman Brandon Facyson (6-2, 188) to give the Hokies a shutdown quartet at corner. Strong safety Kyshoen Jarrett (5-11, 198) and free safety Detrick Bonner (6-0, 194) have two picks apiece, and both are solid in coverage. Expect a lot of nickel and dime packages from the Hokies on Saturday, with both Fullers on the field with at least one other corner.

When Savage has time to throw, he is at his best. He has a strong arm -- an NFL arm -- and can make all the throws. But he can be pressured into mistakes and suffers from a lack of mobility. Virginia Tech is tied for the national lead with 19 sacks, and senior end J.R. Collins is the team leader with 4.5. Tech also gets a good push from its tackles, as senior Derrick Hopkins and junior Luther Maddy have combined for five sacks and nine tackles for loss.

Pitt has allowed 13 sacks, which is tied for the most in the ACC and tied for 96th nationally. That's a potential nightmare for the Panthers: Savage being pressured and throwing the ball up for grabs against a ballhawking Hokies' secondary.

Pitt's rushing attack has been sporadic, though 230-pound true freshman James Conner has provided a spark at times. But against Virginia, the Panthers ran for 8 yards as a team, and Virginia Tech's defense is much better all around than Virginia's. Savage needs help from his rushing attack Saturday, or the talent at wide receiver will be wasted as Savage runs for his life.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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