Panthers starting to click behind Savage
PITTSBURGH – The numbers were gaudy. The plays were spectacular. Yet Paul Chryst remains unimpressed.
Sure the Pittsburgh coach was pleased with his team’s 58-55 win over Duke on Saturday in the sense the Panthers (2-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) had a bigger number on the scoreboard at the end of an eventful afternoon.
The rest? Ehhh.
“We don’t feel like we’ve arrived,” Chryst said.
Maybe, but the destination seems closer than ever following an eye-popping 60 minutes in which the Panthers rolled up 598 total yards and scored eight touchdowns while posting their highest point total in 18 years.
Senior quarterback Tom Savage completed 23 of 33 passes for 424 yards and six scores, tying an ACC record for most touchdown passes in a single game. Two of them went to senior wide receiver Devin Street. Three more found the hands of freshman superstar-in-training Tyler Boyd. Running back James Conner bulled for 173 yards rushing and a touchdown as the Panthers put on a decidedly un-Pittlike performance.
Long known for its conservative, clock-churning ground game, the Panthers look more than athletic. They look dangerous. During one stretch, spanning the first and second quarters, Pitt scored on a 67-yard strike from Savage to Street and a 69-yard catch and run from Savage to Boyd.
“Hitting big plays like that is huge for team morale,” Waynesburg native and tight end Scott Orndoff said. “Football is a game of momentum and everyone saw that on Saturday.”
It’s a momentum that seems to be building from week to week. Pitt hung around for awhile in its season debut before falling to ACC power Florida State in the opener. It followed up by putting up 49 points in a rout of New Mexico and hardly seemed out of its comfort zone while playing on the road in its new conference for the first time.
The Panthers can put together their first three-game winning streak since 2010 with a win on Saturday against Virginia (2-1, 0-0) and while Chryst remains an impossibly tough grader, his students are pleased with their progress even while allowing there’s room for improvement.
The film session on Sunday included its fair share of praise. It also included Chryst pointing out a series of mistakes, notably an inability to control the clock and properly protect a 23-point second-half lead.
Pitt failed to produce a first down on consecutive series in the fourth quarter, giving the Blue Devils a chance to turn a rout into something considerably more compelling.
Duke drew within a field goal with 3:43 to play but the Panthers recovered the ensuing onside kick. Facing a third-and-7 at the Duke 39, Savage threw a dart to Kevin Weatherspoon for 15 yards the first down that allowed Pitt to run out the clock.
“As good as I think we did, it’s never as good as it seems, it’s never as bad as it seems,” guard Cory King said. “That’s really encouraging because it shows what we can do but also that we can do even better.”