MORGANTOWN - West Virginia University football coach Bill Stewart finds it hard to believe that Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage is less than a year removed from playing high school football.
The true freshman, who earned the starting job in the Scarlet Knights' second game of the season, is ranked third among Big East passers, trailing only seniors Jarrett Brown of WVU and Bill Stull of Pitt.
"He's doing absolutely awesome," Stewart said. "He just steps up and makes plays. We have to rattle him, and I don't know if we can. He's been hit, knocked around and he puts it right on the money."
Savage's success has been a big reason for Rutgers becoming bowl-eligible this season for the fifth straight year. Rutgers, 8-3 overall and 3-3 in the Big East, hosts West Virginia at noon Saturday, ending a four-game road trip for the Scarlet Knights.
"He seems very calm and poised for being a freshman quarterback," WVU cornerback Brandon Hogan said. "He doesn't try to make a lot of things happen. He just goes with the game."
Savage's favorite target has been senior Tim Brown, who leads the conference with an average of 95 receiving yards per contest. Brown, who counts eight touchdowns among his 51 catches, was playing hurt in last week's victory over Louisville.
"What the adrenaline and the will to compete can do is when you need to turn it on, you just put it out of your mind and go," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. "The minute that the play was over, you can see Tim decelerating almost. Make no mistake about it, Tim is not playing at full speed. You take a speed guy and take away his No. 1 tool, that makes what he has done more impressive because he is doing it without his No. 1."
Hogan said covering Brown will still present a challenge.
"It's always hard dealing with the short, quick guys because you can't see them getting out of the cut or breaking down," Hogan said.
WVU, 8-3 and 4-2 in the conference, can counter with a short, quick guy of its own in running back Noel Devine. Schiano compared the junior to one of professional football's greatest runners.
"He is a big-play back, no doubt about it," he said. "He reminds me very much of Barry Sanders .When I was in Chicago (with the Bears), that was the heyday of Barry Sanders. Barry led the league in negative plays because he was so quick and so confident in his cutting ability and speed that he would make some cuts where I'm sure the o-line coach would say, 'What are you doing?' After a while, you stop saying that because every eighth one, he pops it. Comparing someone to Barry Sanders doesn't happen much, but Noel Devine is the same way. He bangs it in there, and he's strong. His weight room numbers and speed are legendary."