Pitt’s defense, which ranked 17th in the country last season, appeared unsure on how to stop him. Wary of the speed of Florida State’s wide receivers, the Panthers gave Greene and company plenty of room to maneuver.
Too much, as it turned out. Way too much. For all of Winston’s precision, often he was throwing to teammates who didn’t have anybody in dressed in blue within arm’s reach.
The Panthers were primed early looking to prove they belonged in the better, deeper ACC after more than two decades of middling success in the crumbling Big East.
If Savage was nervous about kick-starting a collegiate career that was on life support for more than two years, it didn’t show. The quarterback who led Rutgers to a 12-1 record as a freshman in 2009 hit Devin Street for a 31-yard gain on Pitt’s first drive, Savage’s first completion in a game in 1,024 days.
For a few minutes, the 23-year-old appeared in a hurry to make up for lost time.
He hit Street again for 16 yards before finding Manasseh Garner for a 4-yard touchdown to give Pitt a quick 7-0 lead. The toss completed a full career arc for the well-traveled Savage, who transferred to Arizona in 2011 before moving on to Pitt last year. His previous touchdown pass came on Oct. 23, 2010, while playing mop-up duty for the Scarlet Knights in a 41-21 loss to the Panthers.
It was a nice moment, but all it did was set the stage for Winston.
Florida State’s first drive fizzled. The second ended with Winston hitting O’Leary — the grandson of golfing great Jack Nicklaus — for a 24-yard touchdown. The two hooked up again on the next drive, with Winston executing a perfect play fake before flipping the ball to O’Leary in the back of the end zone to give Florida State a 14-10 lead.