Fresh Start

There has been a clear change of ideals on the best way to win at West Virginia. Where former head coach Rich Rodriguez was obsessed with offensive football, coach Bill Stewart has gone on the defensive, both in approach and within his first recruiting class.

The line was an obvious position of need for the Mountaineers, who slogged through last season with a complete lack of depth for veteran assistant Bill Kirelawich. It showed, with Stewart signing a whopping eight defensive linemen in a class of just 23. That's more than 33 percent for a team that utilizes just three down lineman – though is promising to insert more during a 4-3 look that will increasingly emerge under the new regime.

Add in three cornerbacks, two linebackers and two safeties and the total number of defenders inked is 15. With kicker Tyler Bitancurt, that leaves just seven offensive players taken, albeit with two spots to spare. Part of that is because WVU needed defenders – but part, especially with an offense still lacking some aspects like big-play wideouts, is that Stewart believes defense wins not just games, but titles.

"Defense wins championships, wins games, and we needed immediate defensive help here at West Virginia University," Stewart said. "I want to compliment (the defense) on their fine showing in the Fiesta Bowl. I'm not much on innovation. All I know is blocking and tackling, that B + T x H2 = V; Blocking and tackling times hitting and hustle will equal victory. Col. Blake, Army football. That has always been my motto growing up. We have to have defense to do that. That defense won the Fiesta Bowl. The defense will ride in the first bus. They have earned the spurs to do that. Offense is good for shows. Defense wins games."

That's the exact opposite thinking of Rodriguez, who placed every decent athlete on that side of the ball, often ignoring cries from the defensive staff that it needed additional skill and bodies. Then Rodriguez would wonder why the odd stack wasn't playing as well as his offense. Of course, that argument was moot when the defense outperformed the offense in each key game this season, like at USF and against Pitt, and failed to allow any foe to score more than 31 points – and just one foe to even top 28. Now, with Stewart's openness to suggestion and better balance of talent on both sides, West Virginia appears better primed for excellence on each side.

"We needed a defensive staff (in place) because we had to go make an impact on defensive players," Stewart said of his reasoning for hiring defensive coaches first, then filling out the offensive staff. "Jeff Casteel and Bill Kirelawich, God bless ‘em, stayed on board. We had a plan, to try to attract the greatest defensive players we could get. There are linemen, linebackers and secondary players who will be outstanding. We had to get coaches on board and get south into Florida with Doc Holliday. It was a strong finish, a very, very strong finish (with defensive lineman Tevita Finau and safety Courtney Stuart, the last two players to send letter-of-intents before Stewart's presser).

"Things are very fine here in Morgantown at the state Flagship University. Thirty-four days ago I was very honored to become your head football coach. That will stay with me. … Coaching did not win the Fiesta Bowl. Being accountable and being responsible and crossing the Ts and dotting Is did it. That's what your Mountaineers did."


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