Stew's Review: ECU

WVU head coach Bill Stewart is relentlessly positive, so it can be difficult to discern when he is really displeased with something.

Immediately following West Virginia's ugly 24-3 loss to East Carolina on Saturday, Stewart made a couple of comments that had some observers wondering if he watched the same game they did. At one point, he said he saw a lot of good things on the field, but other than the performance of the punt team, you might have been wondering what he was referring to.

One day later, Stewart made it clear that he was disappointed with his team's performance, but still tempered it by saying that the loss did not mean WVU's season was over.

"We played a good football team, and yesterday they played better than us," he observed.

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The coaching staff spent all Sunday morning reviewing game film on Sunday searching for answers to WVU's poor play, which encompassed both the offense and the defense. Still, Stewart was able to find some positives where few others did.

"We did some good things, we ran the ball well, and we did some things not so well," Coach Stewart said.

Although WVU did rush for 179 yards, 88 of those yards came on three carries, meaning that the Mountaineers' other 33 carries accounted for just 91 yards -- and average of 2.75 yards per carry.

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Stewart said that defensively his team needs to get off the field and needs to improve their tackling -- again, obvious conclusions for anyone watching the game. Those deficiecies, in turn contributed to an offense that struggled to show any sort of continuity.

"We need to control the ball on offense," Stewart said. East Carolina ran 71 plays on offense compared to just 54 plays by West Virginia.

On offense Stewart said he would like to see his team get back to more belly option plays to take advantage of the speed and athleticism of Noel Devine and Pat White. The Mountaineers did run some familiar zone running plays yesterday but were unable to establish the run. Jock Sanders did not have a carry, and until the final drive only White and Devine carried the ball for WVU.

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Turnovers also hurt the Mountaineers, including a questionable fumble call on White. When asked about the fumble call Stewart said, "I can't start complaining about referees, the ball was on the ground and I can't fault Pat White for trying to make a play either." Stewart also spoke highly of the defensive line of East Carolina, giving them credit for disrupting the offensive line. The Pirates, with a standard four man rush, were able to get pressure on White in the passing game, and also bottle him up on most of his rushing attempts.

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On defense, the name of the game is tackling and West Virginia didn't make many, especially in the open field tackles. One critical example was a third down and long swing pass that gained 17 yards and picked up a crucial first down for East Carolina. It also saw Mountaineer defenders grasping at air, and reaching for tackles instead of getting into good position to put a hit on the ball carrier. Many of WVU's third down woes were set up by a lack of plays on first down.

"I think Coach Casteel said it best last night. We didn't do anything to disrupt them on first

Stewart said that the key to getting off the field and being successful on third down is what you do on first down. When an offense picks up four and five yards on first down it makes the play calling that much easier on second and third down and allows the offense to control the clock -- which is exactly what East Carolina accomplished on Saturday. The Pirates were eight for 16 on third down conversion attempts.

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This week Stewart said that the defense will get back to basics and work on fundamental tackling drills. WVU often appeared in position to make defensive plays on Saturday, but weren't able to finish and get the ball carrier on the ground. He also said that the secondary has a lot of work to do both breaking on the ball and making open field tackles.

"There isn't a whole lot to say" Stewart said, in summing up West Virginia's worst overall performance since 2001. "They just simply played better than us yesterday." The Mountaineers will get back to work this week as they prepare for a touch road game against the University of Colorado on September 18th.

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