After two weeks and 18 practices of the first fall camp under the direction of Bill Stewart, West Virginia will now turn its undivided attention to the Villanova Wildcats, who visit Morgantown two weeks from today. By and large, Stewart is pleased with the current status of his team as they turn their attention to ‘Nova.
"We're where we need to be right now," he said. "We have two weeks to get ready for our first opponent, and that's where our whole emphasis is, will be, should be and is going to be. I can't wait to play."
Though some light weightlifting and film work on Sunday will officially signal the end of fall camp, Saturday's 79-play scrimmage was for all intents and purposes the final major event of the preseason. Included in that 79-play scrimmage were 40 plays by the first-team offense.
Not included in that scrimmage were a number of key players who are expected to play big roles for the Mountaineers in 2008. Among them were quarterback Jarrett Brown (hamstring), quarterback receiver Bradley Starks (hamstring), and tailbacks Noel Devine and Jock Sanders. The latter two are not injured, but were dressed in gold jerseys (signifying a hands-off warning to the defense). Stewart said afterward that, while all four of those players could have played, he thought it best to keep them on the sideline and not risk further injury (in the case of the quarterbacks) or potential injury (the tailbacks).
"I guess maybe I'm paranoid," Stewart admitted. "Maybe I'm getting older, hopefully that means I'm wiser. I feel so bad for all of our athletes throughout America right now who have a knee here, a shoulder there, and another knee here. It's sickening to see young men doing as best as they can do and lo and behold they got hurt."
Though he didn't call him by name, Stewart referenced a torn ACL suffered earlier this week by Pitt freshman Cameron Saddler during a practice in the Steel City as part of the reasoning behind his decision. The head coach stressed that all four players would have played had it been an actual game.
"You hate to baby them," he said. "You don't want to baby them. I kept them out today because being the last day of camp and practice number eighteen, I didn't want anyone falling on them."
Taking the place of Sanders and Devine in the backfield was junior college transfer Zach Hulce. Freshman Terence Kerns also got his fair share of carries, mostly with the No. 2 offense. And speaking of the second team, true freshman quarterback Coley White served as the backup today to older brother Pat.
The highlights of the afternoon included a couple of big hits from weakside linebacker J.T. Thomas and a booming 49-yard field goal at the end of the workout by senior Pat McAfee. McAfee's kick was higher than the uprights as it sailed through the goal.
Defensively, defensive lineman Larry Ford had a very impressive day, routinely making his way into the backfield. Ford's emergence as a disruptive force is big news for the defensive line, which entered camp as a question mark, but has since been shored up.
"Larry Ford, we had nobody to block him today," Stewart said. "That cat was smokin'. That cat was rollin'. Larry Ford is huge for us."
Stewart also singled out the play of freshman tight end Tyler Urban, who looks like he will almost certainly avoid a redshirt, and depending on what type of formation the Mountaineer offense takes the field in, could conceivably start against the Wildcats
With the start of classes at the University coming on Monday, many of the players' families are in Morgantown for the weekend. In addition to the aforementioned workout, Sunday will also be Fan Day at the Indoor Practice Facility.
"I hope they have a good night tonight and stay out of the news," Stewart said, referencing some past incidents on the last night of camp which have resulted in some not-so-good headlines for the football program. "We've talked to them about being mature adults and not being the weak link. All we can do is the best we can do and go home. Hopefully when the head hits the pillow, you don't worry about it."
At this point, all Stewart hopes to worry about is Villanova.