April 8, 2013

A little breakdown of Tom Savage at Rutgers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Justin @ 10:07 pm

Allow myself to introduce…myself. Justin here, I post as NFLGimpy on Panther Lair and twitter. I graduated from Pitt in 2008 and still live in Pittsburgh. I’m a proud football season ticket holder. I’ve been writing about the NFL for several years now, most recently on Scouts Notebook, an NFL/College Football website mostly focusing on the draft. This has led me to looking at a lot of tape and highlights for draft eligible players and I wanted to add a little bit of that to my first post here on Pitt Blather. I reached out to Chas and Reed and after successfully blackmailing demonstrating my worth, they agreed to humor me.

I figured I’d start off with Tom Savage. With Savage as the likely starter at QB for us in 2013, most of what us fans know about him is purely from memory and practice notes. Tape has been difficult to find for him since he was a freshman and most of what I found is purely highlights which are obviously the “good” and not the bad or the Tino Sunseri pocket presence. But you can still learn a lot about a player from the highlights, mostly the “what COULD this guy be?”

I’ll start off with a video I found with his 2009 highlights. Take a look (feel free to mute the music, it doesn’t add much unless you really like Disturbed for some reason..which I’m not sure how that’s possible).

A few overall things to take note of in the highlights:

-The second play (starting at 14 seconds) was the first thing that really jumped out at me. Savage executes a solid play action and sprints to his right. He throws on the run to an open receiver and hits him in stride. This is the type of play we can expect to see a lot of in 2013, especially when the running game is working. It’s a simple execution play that works tremendously when done properly; aka the kind of play Chryst loves. Savage had two reads: high and low. Savage correctly threw it to the low receiver in a way that enabled him to turn upfield. Simple but highly effective. If you take a look at his roll out in combination with his 10 yard run at 51 seconds, you can see Savage has some wheels. He’s much faster than I recalled and faster than Tino. He won’t outrun most LBs, but he has enough speed to get 5-10 yards when necessary.

-Savage can absolutely rip it when he wants to. He has an NFL arm and when he steps into his throws there’s steam coming off of them. They can be a bit wobbly, but that’s a huge nitpick because Peyton Manning throws an ugly ball and that hasn’t exactly hurt him. He easily has the strongest arm since Rutherford.

-Savage’s main problem as a freshman was accuracy. He completed 50% or less of his passes in 5 out of 12 games. To put that into perspective, Tino did that twice in 3 years as a starter. For all of Tino’s flaws, accuracy on short and intermediate throws wasn’t one of them. Something that I noticed even in the highlights was inconsistent footwork. You can see that on his throw at 28 seconds. He has the ability to step into his throw but keeps his legs wide and just kind of whips it. The throw there wasn’t bad, but the two things a coach will fix when a QB has accuracy issues are footwork and throwing motion. Savage has a solid throwing motion. He can throw it a bit sidearm at times, but at 6’5 he can get away with that. His footwork though leaves a lot to be desired and is the main area he can improve on to improve his accuracy. I bet if I watched every incompletion I would see a lot of throws where he wasn’t stepping into them. With consistent footwork, he will clear 60% completion. We’re seeing the plays where his footwork wasn’t a hindrance. If you watch the throws again, you’ll see he consistently isn’t stepping forward when throwing even with a clean pocket. That’s a huge reason for his low completion %.

– Take a look at 1:35 if you really want to see a big boy throw. He steps into his throw and guns it over the middle. The WR is right in front of the DB and a split second later and the DB can make a play. You can see how poor footwork (like his throw at 28 seconds) would be a problem there because if he doesn’t step into his throw it’ll be late. I’ll be blunt. I doubt Tino or Palko make that throw. When Savage steps into his throws he can hit them on a frozen rope. That ball travels 25 yards in the blink of an eye.

-While they are highlights, his deep ball blows my mind. True freshmen do not go deep like that and Savage hit more throws 20+ yards downfield in that highlight reel than I think Tino ever did. He also had a 4th quarter comeback against UConn, something that never happened with Tino at the helm. Take a look at 1:06 if you want to see the throw. It was a little lucky but Savage threw a perfect ball.

One more video with a couple of new observations:

-Savage doesn’t seem to panic anywhere near as much as Tino has with pressure in his face. He made a couple of throws in this video against USF with a blitz or pressure in his face and he wasn’t phased. In that USF game he finished 15/30 for 194 yards and 2  touchdowns. Great yards per completion but a low completion %. You can see in those throws against USF he was throwing off of his back foot a lot, which you have to do sometimes in the face of a blitz. He only lost 7 yards to sacks and had 0 interceptions, so the pressure didn’t lead to negative plays, which is good. But, it’s a good reason why he only completed half of his throws.

-Savage does seem to stare down his receivers a bit. If you watch his helmet it won’t move. I can’t see his eyes, but he clearly isn’t looking at the whole field. If you’re watching most QBs in a pro offense, you’ll see their helmet move as they look around. Obviously most true freshmen aren’t looking off safeties or finding their 3rd and 4th reads so this is way overly critical on my part. Tino never excelled at that either and his big killer this past season was happy feet in the pocket.  I didn’t see that from Savage, so there’s a huge upgrade. However, Devin Street has the talent to allow Savage to key on him. I didn’t see hesitation to throw it to his WRs, a level of confidence few QBs at his age had.

Overall what you can discern between the highlights and the stats is that Savage wasn’t really expected to win. They ran the ball roughly 60% of the time, including a wildcat look with Mohamed Sanu (now with the Bengals). They clearly tried to avoid letting Savage be the reason they win or lose but when given the opportunity, Savage did step up. He showed a tremendous amount of talent as a freshman and the flaws I saw in those highlights can be fixed with good coaching. Improved footwork would be a huge benefit that would fix most of the problems I saw on the tape. If you compare 2010 Tino to 2012 Tino you’ll see a big jump in that area (2011 didn’t happen) and coaching is the main reason for that.

As crazy as it sounds, I could see Savage drafted in 2014. The talent is there.  The opportunity is there. It’s up to him and I have a feeling after everything he has gone through, he’s ecstatic that the only thing that can stop him is himself.

Constructive feedback on this would be fantastic. I know the premises is a bit off, but please watch the tapes again after you read and you’ll see what I’m saying. Obviously with 3 years between any real playing time he could look completely different, but I wanted to look at talent and skill and I know I learned a lot from it. I’m a lot less concerned about his accuracy now that I focused on his throwing motion and footwork. He doesn’t have an awkward hitch like a Tim Tebow, it’s a fluid motion. I knew he was talented, but I forgot how many “wow” type throws he made. He has things you can’t teach.

I have something different in store for my next column later this week but if you guys like this format I can see what I can do to break down other players, just gotta find the tape.


Like the post Justin. I can see getting in a lot of shootouts this season w/ a QB who has a big arm and our Defense being a big question. Here’s to hoping we are on the correct end of those games.

Comment by Bones 04.08.13 @ 10:35 pm

Thanks Bones!

Comment by Justin 04.08.13 @ 10:39 pm

Thank you for the post. I appreciate the details and breakdown on such a key player… Good job!

… Gee would be great to see a QB in a Pitt uniform play like this! … unless of course it is in silly putty ‘gold’ and navy blue with soviet era block lettering… but oh well, with QB play like that I could even tolerate the uniforms!

Comment by Pittscript 04.08.13 @ 10:39 pm

just like Adams, when you have the physical tools, you are likey to be drafted. 6’5 & strong arm …. let’s hope you proves to be a 1st or 2nd rounder instead of a 6th or 7th rounder

Comment by wbb 04.08.13 @ 10:55 pm

Welcome and great start. Love the substance behind the post.
One question. Why did he move from Rutgers to AZ to Pitt ? With NFL talent why hasn’t he set up roots?

Comment by Pitt fan in Atlanta 04.08.13 @ 10:59 pm

When Savage left rutgers for Arizona, they didn’t have Rich Rodriguez as head coach. I should know who, but it’s midnight and in tired. When Rich came to town, it was obvious Tom wouldn’t fit in his offensive scheme; he’s athletic, but not a runner like Rich wants . This led to the second transfer and when that happened, his options became very limited. You’re getting a 1 year QB who hasn’t thrown a ball in three years in a real game by the time her can play. His last game was in 2010. He sat in’11 then Rich came to town for ’12, he had to leave.

Had a coach who can use a pocket passer come to town, Tom would have competed with Matt Scott for the starting gig. Scott just graduated and will be an NFL draft pick this year, somewhere in the 3rd to 5th round range.

Comment by Justin 04.08.13 @ 11:11 pm

Thanks. I am looking forward to your analytical breakdown of the players this season. Will add a different spin to the blog.

Comment by Pitt Fan in Atlanta 04.08.13 @ 11:13 pm

Great stuff Justin. Fantastic to have the video right on the blog without having to go searching for it, and half the time not even knowing what I’d even want to search for.

Excellent. Welcome!!

Comment by Dan 04.08.13 @ 11:16 pm

I like the breakdown. Very analytical and fact-based. We need more of that! Savage obviously has a big arm and that’s great, and hopefully the intangibles you pointed out will hold true and we’ll have ourselves a Prime Time Player. Hail to Pitt!

Comment by Atlanta Panther 04.09.13 @ 2:56 am

Arizona…wasn’t it one of the Stoops?

Comment by Jason 04.09.13 @ 4:10 am

Great first article Justin, thanks for the detail. I’ll add something here. You are correct that these highlights show the best of his play.

You were also 100% on mark to talk about his accuracy and his footwork being subpar.

Comment by Reed 04.09.13 @ 4:35 am

Reed, I can appreciate the tempering of the skills of the new QB based on your observations over the past month, however, you have to understand that the QB who follows Tino, just like the coach who followed Wanny, will be deitized on this site.

The hope here is that maybe the proper coaching will eventually help Savage find his potential.

Comment by wbb 04.09.13 @ 6:27 am

I can live with an accuracy % that is average, IF the reason that it is lower is because we are throwing the ball over 30 yards down the field on a consistant basis. This may not be great for the QB stats but it really benefits the overall offensive production since the DBs have to respect Savage’s ability to go long with the “EXPLOSIVE” play. Sorry, couldn’t help myself on using this adjective.

The only constructive criticism that I have for you is, could you please substitute the term, “Pitt’s previous starting QB”, for the name that rhymes with vino, it would keep the hair on the back of my neck from standing on end when reading this blog if you would comply with this request.

Comment by Dr. Tom 04.09.13 @ 6:42 am

Agree, wbb.

This year, unlike the previous ones, I don’t have to scour the Cathedral lawn for QB prospects.

We need to put the fear of the long ball into our playbook. It has been sorely missing.

Oh, by the way, great reporting guys!

Comment by steve1 04.09.13 @ 6:42 am

Geez, Doc, I couldn’t…and didn’t…say it better myself!

Comment by steve1 04.09.13 @ 6:45 am

“Plays that work tremendously when done properly” — those are my favorite kind of plays too!!

Comment by JCE 04.09.13 @ 6:58 am

Wow!!! Are my eyes deceiving me??? Is that really Tom Savage powering that pigskin? How did Rutgers letr him escape? Having just returned from Tucson and reading the hype about Rodriquiz, I am startled that he too let Tom leave. This could be a most interesting season. If ONE of our running backs is anywhere near “decent: watch ut for the Panters!!! Muchas gracias, Justin. Rev. George in Columbus

Comment by Rev. George Mehaffey 04.09.13 @ 7:41 am

Nice work Justin, wow, I know they are highlights but wow! It sure is great to see deep balls and guys being hit in stride. He had the advantage of throwing to Sanu, which sure helps.

I really feel bad for him, he looked that good as a frosh and Rutgers let him go, amazing.

One would think that footwork can be improved, as can accuracy. I wish people would quit touting a former QB’s stats, which were accumulated by dumping off the ball, no slants, no deep balls, NO MEN HIT IN STRIDE. Many yard few wins. No comebacks for a win in a career. The stats that matter.

Sorry for that rant. I can’t seem to let it go, yeah, I know he was the best we had at the time. I’m still pissed about Bostick never getting a chance by the way.

Anyway, no more “Back to the Future”, full speed ahead, let’s hope for Pitt’s sake, that the rebirth of Savage is the rebirth of winning football at Pitt.

Comment by gc 04.09.13 @ 7:43 am

Great job here..thank you

Comment by HLandPitt 04.09.13 @ 7:49 am

justin good stuff thanks.

Comment by FRANKCAN 04.09.13 @ 8:29 am

Justin – thanks for the great analysis. Welcome aboard. But, as the season goes on, learn to duck!

Comment by Pitt Dad 04.09.13 @ 8:54 am

Pitt Dad,

Trust me, at the game I’m normally the one hurling expletives. I recall the fraud Graham Iowa fiasco when he refused to slow the offense to eat up clock. The things i screamed would offend a comedian.

Comment by Justin 04.09.13 @ 9:02 am

arizona was under the stoops brother-

Comment by Peter Gibbons 04.09.13 @ 10:08 am

Justin I am all for blackmailing when the results are a post such as this LOL!!! The same goes for Chas/Reed…

Chas is this sites commanding General with Reed being his Executive Officer, and you are now his S-2 Intelligence Officer. The main job of the S-2 officer is: collect data on enemy movement, strengths, and battlefield deployments, and makes recommendations for command.

This article fits comfortably with those duties because you revealed the flaws (enemies) of Savages mechanics, (strengths) his ability to make all the throws/arm strength and creating the best scenario for Savage/Team to win(deployment).

Good Stuff Justin….

Comment by Kenny 04.09.13 @ 11:06 am

Justin – Welcome! Great work with the video. Don’t get mixed up with Justinian.

Comment by Jerome Lane 04.09.13 @ 11:56 am

Hey while it appears Pitt will have the ability to actually stretch an opposing defense, ‘vertically’.

For the first time since 2009, which is hard to imagine. Unless you’ve been we we’ve been.

The Land of Oz.

Welcome to the blog Justin.

Comment by EMel 04.09.13 @ 12:03 pm

He has experience playing in the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl. He should get along here just fine.

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist…)

Comment by Chuck Morris 04.09.13 @ 5:08 pm

Welcome Justin. Love the analytical approach. Great job.Keep it up!

Comment by OPFIM 04.09.13 @ 9:16 pm

Thanks for the work- love the video. He can really bring it when he steps into the throw. Wide receivers, they’re not just for bubble screens anymore.

Comment by tsquare 04.09.13 @ 11:34 pm

Kenny – cracked up when I read your comment but you hit the nail on the head in comparing Justin’s article to an Intel Report.

wbb – the one thing I have really learned about PITT football once I started really following it again in 2005 is that the fans’ expectations are wildly inflated. A good case in point is the long, long discussions we used to have on here with DRW (where is he BTW?) regarding Mark Myers ability and prospects. Sometimes PITT fans really buy into the hype generated by the recruiting websites and forget that there is a myriad of things that have to click into place for a player to be successful in college football.

It isn’t all on the field of play either. A lot of it is emotional and mental – which IMO, especially at QB – is more important than physical talent. I think that will be 95% of the case with Tom Savage. He has all the physical skills needed to be a great college QB but does he have the temperament to succeed?

PITT fans love to point to his FR year at RU and the fact that he was an All-Freshman selected QB but they tend to overlook the fact that there really isn’t that many true & redshirted FR qbs as starters BCS schools. His QB rating, which I think is a true indicator og how well a QB produces, was a rather pedestrian 115 (if my calcs are correct) which had he had that in 2012 would have put him 90th nationally. His yards per attempt that season was 7.76 which was below the national average for QBs that year.

I guess I just am wary of what can happen at the QB position this season and think our fans are putting way too many expectations on Savage’s shoulders without a solid body of work in his past to point to.

But then again this is what being a football fan is all about and it is what I think makes college football so much more fun to follow than the NFL. You just never know what is going to happen and the cast of characters changes year to year.

BTW, in case our fans have forgotten, in 2010 Sunseri completed 17 passes to Jon Baldwin that went for more than 30+ yards and a bunch that went for more than 40 yards. His deep ball was pretty good that year but went downhill his JR & SR years.

We’ll see a lot of the deep game if Savage holds onto the starting job.

Comment by Reed 04.10.13 @ 5:34 am

I like your surgical approach to analyzing Savage. Hope to see more of it. Welcome! I think that Savage will have a tremendous year for us. “I don’t have a long range plan, I have a one year plan.” Fraudie’s slimy words now apply to Savage. H2P!

Comment by Panther Fan in Hoopieland 04.10.13 @ 8:36 am

I’m not gonna lie, i just have a hunch Savage puts it all together this year. The last player i had this hunch about was Shady. Can’t back it up with facts beyond he’s very talented, getting real coaching, and he’s desperate to end his collegiate career with the promise he showed as a freshman.

I feel like the universe owes us one and it’s Savage.

Comment by Justin 04.10.13 @ 8:49 am

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