The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


October 14, 2013

Panthers struggling to protect Savage

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst knows it’s easy to point the finger at his team’s embattled offensive line after it allowed quarterback Tom Savage to get knocked around for a second straight game.

Chryst also thinks it would be a little misguided. Considering the Panthers are allowing 4.20 sacks per game – more than all but three teams in the country – there’s plenty of blame to go around.

“It’s wrong to put this all on the offensive line,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job of making plays. That changes games. Maybe it’s running the football or making a catch to get a little bit of momentum. There are a lot of things to it.

“We’ve got to own it and get better.”

The Panthers (3-2) certainly have to do get better if they want to get serious about making a run. Two weeks ago, Savage was sacked seven times and knocked out of the game with a concussion in a win over Virginia. He was then taken down eight times in a 19-9 loss to Virginia Tech, though Hokies coach Frank Beamer believes his team could have had at least eight more.

He’s probably right. Savage narrowly escaped a handful of sacks in the fourth quarter alone as he tried to spearhead a late rally. It never really materialized as Pitt let an opportunity to establish itself as a legitimate threat in the ACC Coastal Division evaporate.

While allowing the line – which features three new starters – could use some work, it’s hardly alone. Wide receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd were manhandled at times by an aggressive Virginia Tech secondary. The physical play disrupted the timing of the receivers’ routes, forcing Savage to hold onto the ball longer than Chryst would like.

Even Savage isn’t above reproach. While praising his quarterback for standing in the pocket in an attempt to make a play, Chryst would prefer Savage to recognize when it’s better to just throw it away rather than take an unnecessary hit.

“Sometimes it’s hard to concede that you don’t have it and throw it out of bounds,” Chryst said.

A more consistent running game would help too. Isaac Bennett, Rachid Ibrahim and James Conner managed just 49 yards on 14 carries, with Conner leaving early due to a shoulder injury. The inability to generate anything on the ground forced Pitt into too many long-yardage situations on third down, allowing the Hokies to attack relentlessly.

“When you run the ball inconsistently, then you try to get it going through the air and sometimes take a sack,” Chryst said. “We’ve just got to play better on offense. We can sit there and talk all we want, but we’ve just got to play better.”

Pitt takes a break from ACC play over the next two weeks. They face FCS opponent Old Dominion (4-2) on Saturday before traveling to Navy. Don’t expect the Panthers to overlook The Monarchs a year after getting stunned by Youngstown State in Chryst’s head coaching debut.

“I hope we’re making progress (in that department),” Chryst said. “We’re going to find out.”


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