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Pitt

Panther Hollow: Savage Is Okay, But Standard Of Enforcement Isn’t

By Matt Popchock
Tom Savage

(Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — An off week for the Panthers (2-1, 3-1) could not come at a better time for redshirt senior quarterback Tom Savage, who left Saturday’s Homecoming contest with Virginia (0-1, 2-2) in the fourth quarter with concussion-like symptoms.

According to team spokesmen, Savage should be ready for their visit to ACC Coastal Division rival Virginia Tech (1-0, 4-1) Sat., Oct. 12 at noon. He has shown only mild symptoms since Saturday and continues to make progress.

After he complained of feeling woozy and was deemed unfit to return, and after Pitt’s defense made a critical fourth down stop on its own three-yard line, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik helped the offense eat up most of the remaining clock and preserve a 14-3 victory.

Savage, who has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,052 yards and ten touchdowns against six interceptions, struggled mightily against Virginia’s top-ten pass defense. After going just 13 of 31 for 191 yards and enduring seven sacks, he struggled mightily just to stay alert.

It all started with under a minute to play in the third quarter. Facing 2nd and 19 from his own 16-yard line, Savage took off up the middle and took a blow right to the head from UVa linebacker Daquan Romero. Sure enough, a flag was thrown…in the direction of center Artie Rowell, for holding.

When Rachid Ibrahim ran for a game-clinching first down, head coach Paul Chryst, not normally animated over the course of a game, gave the nearest official an earful.

Was it because he felt Ibrahim was hit late, with Romero, again, the culprit? Or, as long as said official was in the neighborhood, was Chryst merely taking the opportunity to vent with his starting quarterback incapacitated for a reason that was embarrassingly ignored?

Chryst later agreed the helmet-to-helmet strike of Savage is exactly the sort of play the NCAA is trying to eliminate, especially with its new “targeting” rule. Some coaches want that rule modified to make penalty yardage subject to review, not just ejections, and it won’t come as a surprise if this one ever publicly joins that camp.

It isn’t fair to say Romero deserved an ejection, which is called for under the new rule. Proving intent is not easy. But proving the offense itself would have been, and there was no good reason not to recognize what Romero did.

The usually diplomatic Chryst said as much with the words he didn’t use as with the ones he did in his post-game conference.

“I really believe there’s not one official that isn’t for that,” he replied when asked about the need for them to curtail such dangerous plays. “But I’m going to stop there.”

Referee Dennis Hennigan hasn’t been winning many popularity contests with Pitt fans these days. Last Nov. 3, in South Bend, it was under his watch a phantom pass interference penalty was called against cornerback K’Waun Williams that significantly altered the course of a potential Panther upset of eventual BCS finalist Notre Dame.

This past Saturday, it was under his watch that Savage, who already had a history with concussions, endured a head shot that went unpunished.

Two weeks earlier, against New Mexico, another ACC crew led by Gary Patterson saw the beleaguered quarterback take another beating. Late in the first half, Savage scrambled for seven yards before Rashad Rainey and Brett Bowers greeted him near midfield.

Bowers got a personal foul for trying to make a play on the ball carrier after losing his helmet. As important as enforcement of that particular rule is, Rainey, who clearly hit Savage unnecessarily high, didn’t even get a dirty look.

Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman reports that, since the opening weekend of the 2013 FBS season, enforcement of the targeting rule has tapered off compared to this point of the 2012 season.

Maybe it’s time to change that. Maybe it’s time for the ACC, in its quest for respect from the other power conferences, to double its efforts to lead the national crusade for improved player safety.

But first, maybe it’s time for the conference to issue Savage and his team an apology.

Luckily, he’s feeling well enough to remember it.

(Contact me at mpopchock@kdka.com and/or follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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