BETHEL PARK, Pa. — Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst has insisted for the last three months the starting quarterback race remains wide open.
Just in case Chryst forgot, Chad Voytik provided a timely reminder.
The redshirt freshman completed 27 of 33 passes for 358 yards and three scores during the Panthers’ annual spring game Friday night. Chryst gave Voytik extensive playing time, and Voytik responded by tossing a 66-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon and a pair of scores to tight end Scott Orndoff.
“I got the adrenaline going a little bit,” Voytik said. “You always like to go out there and compete under the lights. It felt like high school days, it was a fun time.”
Chryst has been diplomatic about who has the upper hand through spring drills but sent Tom Savage out onto the field with the first team. The former Rutgers star — looking to revive his football career after missing the last two years while transferring to Arizona and then to Pitt — completed 6 of 11 passes for 80 yards but failed to produce a touchdown drive while he was on the field.
Savage’s limited playing time was by design according to his coach.
“We wanted to get him three or four series and put Chad in and get him as much work as we could,” Chryst said. “Tommy did a lot of good things this spring and we like where he’s at. It was pretty good for Chad to get some good work tonight.”
The offense had little trouble moving the ball against a defense missing a handful of starters due to injury. Isaac Bennett ran for 114 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown run in which he bounced off a couple of defenders then sprinted to the end zone. The score helped atone for an early fumble that Chryst chalked up to Bennett being sloppy with the ball.
Desmond Brown, whose older brother Antonio Brown is a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, ran for 90 yards and a touchdown while Malcolm Crockett added 45 yards on the ground but did fumble twice.
The performance was a good sign following the abrupt departure of Rushel Shell, who left the team earlier this month and plans to transfer. Shell was expected to be the starter after rushing for 641 yards and four touchdowns last fall.
Bennett’s strong play behind a sometimes dominant offensive line quelled any concerns the Panthers had about the running game heading into the summer.
“Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, Rushel Shell left and everything,’ but I felt like with Isaac we’re real confident, real happy with having him back there,” senior defensive lineman Tyrone Ezell said. “I feel like our running game is definitely going to be good. It’s getting there.”
Chryst wasn’t quite so effusive. He helped build Wisconsin into a national power with a bruising rushing attack. He didn’t like the fumbles or the inability of the offense to score touchdowns early. With nearly five months to prepare for the 2013 season opener — and ACC opener — against Florida State on Labor Day, Chryst believes his team remains very much a work in progress.
“A lot of guys did good, but there are certainly some things we need to clean up,” he said.