PITTSBURGH – It was an announcement that didn’t directly affect Pitt – but still bad news for the Panthers – when the NCAA lifted recruiting restrictions on the Penn State football program in the wake of the university’s diligence in making amends after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Last year, the NCAA limited Penn State to 15 new scholarships per year, but the school can now offer 20 next academic year (2014-15) and return to the maximum number (25) after that. By 2016-17, Penn State will be able to compete with the maximum number of student-athletes on scholarship (85).
Penn State did well in recruiting last year, even with the restrictions, getting three four-star recruits, based on Rivals.com rankings, and five-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who is starting as a freshman.
Pitt is ahead of its in-state rival, 17-12, in terms of 2014 verbal commitments. But Penn State has more four-stars, 3-1.
Pitt and Penn State resume their once-famous rivalry with four games in four seasons, starting in 2016.
Bye Week Met With Savage Concerns
There’s concern around the football program as the team enters its second bye week of the season, but to be fair, the situation is not as bad as disgruntled fans may think.
Pitt is 3-1 for the first time in four years and has a good chance to take a 5-2 record into Georgia Tech on Nov. 2 for the first of five tough games at the end of the season. After a game at Virginia Tech on Oct. 12, Pitt plays Old Dominion and Navy.
Plus, there are players on the team – two seniors and a freshman – playing as well as anyone at their positions in the ACC.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a beast, sharing the ACC lead in sacks (six) with Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley.
Meanwhile, wide receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd are making big plays on a weekly basis. Street is No. 1 and Boyd is No. 3 in the ACC in average receiving yards per game (111.2 and 106.2). Boyd and Street are ranked fifth and sixth in average catches per game (5.8 and 5.2). And Boyd leads the conference in average all-purpose yards (425 receiving, 178 kickoff returns and 98 rushing, for an average of 175.2).
But Pitt’s bye week started with some bad news on the other end of those catches: Senior quarterback Tom Savage left the 14-3 victory against Virginia with concussion symptoms. It’s unclear whether he can practice this week or play against Virginia Tech.
The situation is not without its share of controversy. The story is actually graphic in its depiction, and should be something the ACC investigates further.
The play occurred at the end of the third quarter when Savage, who ended up getting sacked seven times by Virginia’s pass rush, was scrambling for 14 yards on a play that was called back because of a holding penalty on center Artie Rowell.
Virginia linebacker Daquan Romero hit Savage in the head as he was giving himself up and dropping to the turf.
Savage did not immediately show any signs of a concussion, so he stayed in the game through the end of the series – five plays, including three completions in three attempts and a sack.
When Pitt got the ball back 85 seconds later (game-clock time), Savage played three more snaps, including an incomplete pass and the final Virginia sack of the day.
In the huddle, however, Street and Boyd noticed something was wrong with their quarterback.
“He wasn’t OK,” Street said of Savage’s demeanor. “He wanted to say he was OK, but he was gagging. He wanted to throw up. I think he got his bell rung for sure.”
Street, a respected senior who keeps his hand on the team’s collective pulse, said he coaxed Savage not to return to the game.
“He found his helmet and was trying to get in there,” Street said. “I kind of talked to him and told him about the big picture.”
Finally, backup quarterback Chad Voytik was inserted into the game with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Coach Paul Chryst didn’t say much when he was asked if Savage was examined on the sideline.
“He went and saw everyone,” Chryst said. “I thought it was best to go with Chad.”
Boyd said he noticed something was amiss as he helped Savage off the ground after the Romero hit.
“He was in there looking wavy, looking drowsy, like he wasn’t right,” Boyd said. “I kept telling him, ‘You are cool? You have to stay level with us.’
“He said he was cool, but I knew it was something that was bothering him, but I didn’t know what it was.”
Savage was not available for comment.
No penalty was called on the play, even though the NCAA has instituted a rule this season that hits to the helmet are cause for ejection. Romero wasn’t ejected.
“I thought it was a bad call,” Street said.
Chryst didn’t go that far.
“I really believe there is not one official that isn't for (preventing such hits),” he said. “And I’m going to stop there.”
Chryst may not want to say it publicly, but it can be said here: Romero’s hit comes under the new NCAA guideline for ejecting players for hits to the head.
Pitt, Virginia and the ACC need to re-examine the play and make a determination about the legality of the hit. If a conclusion is reached that Romero should have been ejected, the conference needs to admit it, the officiating crew should be reprimanded and officials in future games need to be more diligent about protecting defenseless players.