PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage has gone from homesick freshman to confident sophomore.
In between, he won more games (eight) than any freshman quarterback in Rutgers history and earned the Scarlet Knights' offensive most valuable player award.
After one season, Savage has become the key to an inexperienced offense as the Scarlet Knights pursue a sixth straight bowl berth. He said relaxing off the field has helped him on it.
"I'm not really too worried about the homesick thing now," he said. "Last year I was still a kid out there. You're trying to get your feet settled in college. Now I understand all that stuff, it really helps out a lot."
Savage completed 52.3 percent of his passes for 2,211 yards and 14 touchdowns with seven interceptions. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was tops among freshman in the nation.
"He's critical to us," coach Greg Schiano said. "He's a leader, he's a playmaker and he's a good person to have on your team. When you have all of those things, that's pretty important."
It's equally important for Savage to keep himself grounded. He's made numerous preseason All-Big East teams and is on the Maxwell Award watch list.
"Tom's a levelheaded guy," Schiano said. "I think that's one of his strengths when he plays the quarterback position. He never gets too high or never gets too low. Hopefully he can take that into his off-the-field situation now. As he does better and better that exposure will only grow more and more."
Savage has had several issues to keep his mind occupied on the field. Rutgers lost three starting linemen from last season, including star tackle Anthony Davis, but the quarterback is confident.
"They're doing a great job," Savage said. "You see the improvement with some of the kids with the protection calls and stuff. Sometimes they wouldn't react the way they should. Now they're really starting to come along. The biggest thing for me is making the right sets of calls."
Schiano feels Savage has progressed in that area.
"He understands things much better," the coach said. "He's been adjusting to protections much better."
Injuries had limited some of Savage's receivers in the preseason.
On Monday, J.T. Tartacoff joined Tim Wright and Quron Pratt on the sidelines. Mohamed Sanu, the team's top returning receiver, has remained healthy after catching 51 passes for 639 yards and three touchdowns in his freshman year.
"Me and Tom are very close," Sanu said. "We have good chemistry, we try to work on everything we can together. He's such a great quarterback, he has so much confidence in himself. I believe he can make any throw and he's just a great athlete.
"I see a big difference in him this year. He's throwing the ball a lot quicker, getting the ball off. He's seeing things happen before they happen. That's very big."
While Savage appreciates the praise, he's far from satisfied
"I have a lot to work on," he said. "You can always get better. I'll never become complacent with my play."