NCAA FOOTBALL: Pitt defense makes its case in win
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage grabbed his helmet and tried to walk onto the field late in the fourth quarter on Saturday against Virginia when wide receiver Devin Street stopped the woozy quarterback and told him maybe it wasn’t the best idea.
“He was a little dazed and confused,” Street said. “He was trying to stay in there. I told him to think about the big picture. We need him for the rest of the season.”
One that’s starting to look brighter by the game.
A week after getting shredded by Duke in a 58-55 win, Pitt’s defense keyed a 14-3 win over the Cavaliers in a victory that in brute force made up for what it lacked in aesthetics. The Panthers (3-1, 2-1 ACC) limited Virginia to 188 total yards and converted a pair of first-quarter turnovers into touchdowns for their first three-game winning streak since 2010.
“Two different weeks, two totally different types of games,” coach Paul Chryst said. “If we can keep growing and learning and play off each other, then we have a chance to be better.”
A lot of that, however, likely depends on Savage. The senior, who is flourishing after missing two seasons while transferring from Rutgers to Arizona to Pitt, was in the midst of a tough day that turned more difficult late in the third quarter.
Savage broke loose for a 14-yard scramble when he slid to the ground. Virginia’s Daquan Romero slammed into him anyway. Their helmets collided and Savage grabbed his head immediately. No foul was called and Savage took eight more snaps — including a pair of sacks — before being pulled for Chad Voytik on Pitt’s final drive.
Pitt spokesman E.J. Borghetti said Savage was dealing with “concussion-like” symptoms. Asked if Savage passed a concussion test, Chryst said “he went and saw everyone and we felt that it was best to go with Chad.”
Savage wasn’t his normal self even before the hit. He took seven sacks in all and was shaken up on several occasions as the Cavaliers (2-2) spent most of the afternoon making things uncomfortable in the pocket. Savage completed 13 of 30 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
The Panthers are off next week before traveling to Virginia Tech for another early-season test in the crowded ACC Coastal Division. It’s unclear whether Savage will be available, though Pitt’s defense showed the Panthers can win all kinds of ways.
Taken to task after getting lit up by the Blue Devils, Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald led a group that had its way with the erratic Cavaliers.
“The defense was tired of everyone saying the defense ain’t that, the offense is the only reason why Pitt is Pitt,” Boyd said. “They felt some type of way about that and did something about it.”
Boyd caught seven passes for 111 yards to become just the second freshman in school history to go over 100 yards receiving in three straight games. Still, even Boyd proved he was human, dropping two passes and fumbling near midfield in the third quarter.
Virginia’s defense had something to do with it in a game that featured 17 punts, five turnovers and zero momentum. Cavaliers quarterback David Watford completed 15 of 37 passes for 123 yards and Virginia converted just 3 of 18 third downs and 1 of 4 fourth downs.
“We created turnovers,” Cavaliers coach Mike London said. “We sacked the quarterback, and we hit the quarterback. And those types of things, when you do that, you expect the opportunities on the other side to give you a chance to score points.”
It never happened.
Two miscues deep in Virginia territory opened the door for Pitt to take command early.
Forced to punt midway through the first quarter, Pitt’s Matt Yoklic got off a low line drive that hit at the Virginia 35 and started rolling. Punt returner Dominique Terrell tracked the ball as it bounded down the field then decided to touch it despite having two Panthers next to him. Trenton Coles fell on the loose ball at the Virginia 19. Four players later James Conner bulled over from 6 yards, winning a brutal collision with Virginia safety Brandon Phelps at the 4 and then high-stepping into the end zone.
Things only got worse on Virginia’s next possession as a snap from center Ross Burbank clanked off Watford’s hands. Bam Bradley picked it up, and it took the Panthers 41 seconds to double their advantage as Savage hit Street on a perfectly executed fade route in the corner of the end zone.
Virginia’s best chance to make it interesting came late in the fourth quarter when Watford led a drive inside the Pitt 5. His fourth-down pass to tight end Jake McGee sailed high, and Pitt was able to run off most of the 3:30 remaining.