Pittsburgh senior Tom Savage had one of the best games for a quarterback this season when the Panthers beat Duke 58-55 on Sept. 21. He threw for 424 yards and six touchdowns that day; the six touchdowns are tied for the most any quarterback has thrown this season.
NFL Media draft analyst Gil Brandt said watching tape of Savage in that game conjured memories of Troy Aikman.
But Savage has struggled since that performance, throwing just five TD passes in the ensuing four games. In addition, he averaged just 171.3 yards in those contests and completed only 54.8 percent of his passes. For the season, he has thrown for 1,546 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions, and completed 59.3 percent of his passes. He has completed fewer than 47 percent of his passes in two games and fewer than 54 percent in three contests.
Savage leads Pitt (4-3) against Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets' secondary has been shaky this season, and four quarterbacks have completed at least 69 percent of their attempts against Tech this season.
Savage (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) is a fifth-year senior, but this is just his second full season as a starter. He was a consensus national top-15 quarterback prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, the same one that included players such as Matt Barkley, Tajh Boyd, AJ McCarron and Zach Mettenberger. Savage, from Philadelphia, signed with Rutgers and was seen as a recruiting coup.
He started 10 games as a true freshman and threw for 2,211 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but he completed only 52.3 percent of his passes. Savage began the 2010 season as the starter but lost his job early that fall to lightly regarded true freshman Chas Dodd. Savage transferred to Arizona and sat out the 2011 season under NCAA rules. But he left after Rich Rodriguez took over as Arizona's coach in late 2011 because he was ill-suited for Rodriguez's version of the spread. Savage transferred to Pitt and again sat out as a transfer last season.
Savage has a strong arm, but decision-making and accuracy were problems at Rutgers, and they remain so. He lacks mobility and hasn't been helped by a revamped Pitt offensive line.
In addition, his overall lack of playing time has stunted his growth as a quarterback. Yes, he's a fifth-year senior -- but he's really not a fifth-year guy in terms of experience. Quarterback coach Brooks Bollinger talked about that with reporters this week.
"I think he's really worked to know when to get the ball out of his hand, to know when he has time to read it out and understand the situation in the game," said Bollinger, who played six seasons at quarterback in the NFL and is in his second season at Pitt.
Bollinger also said he has noticed a sense of urgency with Savage: "When you get [older], you realize you don't have that many opportunities to strap it up."
Savage's uneven play mirrors that of most of the other draftable senior quarterbacks in the ACC. Savage is one of 10 senior starters at the position in the league. Only Florida State (Jameis Winston), Georgia Tech (Vad Lee), Syracuse (Terrel Hunt) and Virginia (David Watford) start non-seniors at the position.
NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said he hasn't studied Savage in-depth, but he has looked over some of the league's other seniors.
"I've been disappointed in [Miami's Stephen] Morris, [North Carolina's Bryn] Renner and [Virginia Tech's Logan] Thomas," Jeremiah said. "Decision-making is a major concern for all three guys. I was disappointed in [Clemson starter Tajh] Boyd's performance against FSU, but he was impressive when I saw him live against Georgia. I don't think his stock has fallen that much."