Prior to the season opener against Villanova, it was the "blue shirts" – as they're known in spring drills and fall camp – who were seated on the first bus to enter the parking lot adjacent to the Puskar Center. It was the defense, said Stewart, that must carry the Mountaineers through the season's early weeks as the offense gelled together under the new system of coordinator Jeff Mullen.
After two games, however, the defense has offered up more questions than answers. Most notably, the opposition is converting third downs at an alarming rate of 53 percent (16-30). One issue, it seems, is youth.
Though senior linebacker Mortty Ivy is one of the conference's best defenders, the Monroeville, Pa. native is surrounded by plenty of youth. The lack of experience, he says, has shown itself at times in the first two weeks, particularly on the road at East Carolina.
"It was just a lot of thinking, and not enough executing," Ivy said of the loss, West Virginia's first to a non-BCS opponent since falling to then-Conference USA member Cincinnati in 2003. "A lot of young guys have never really been in an atmosphere like that, so they're thinking on the run, which makes you two steps slower. You've just got to go with the flow and know your assignment. Know what you're supposed to do, then just fly around and make a play."
It is the hope of Ivy, his teammates, and West Virginia's coaches that making plays will become the rule and not the exception next week when the Mountaineers travel to face Colorado in a Thursday night primetime affair in Boulder.
On the heels of the loss, and with a few extra days to prepare for the Buffaloes, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and his associates have gotten back to basics in Morgantown. While scheming to slow down the Buffs and their version of the spread offense is important, no scheme can be successful without properly-executed basics, most notably proper tackling.
In each of the first two games, opposing ball carriers have broken a host of WVU tackles. Thus, the back to basics approach which has made up much of this week's practice time.
"Basically, we've been working on fundamentals," Ivy said. "That's what we have to get back to this week. We have to get back to basic fundamentals. We had a lack of them during the East Carolina game, so we've gone back and are preparing hard, making some stuff a little more simple.
"We worked a lot more on tackling this week," he continued. "We've gotten better and worked extra hard this week. Hopefully by next week, we'll be ready for a sharp performance."
Fellow linebacker J.T. Thomas is hoping that the extra practice time, the increased emphasis in fundamentals and some additional experience for some of the defense's younger players will result in more consistency and better overall performance from this point forward, beginning next week at Colorado.
"This is a tough defense to learn, but once you learn it, it's a tough defense for the offense to stop," he said. "We know what we're supposed to do, but you might make a mistake here and there. Mistakes, in this game, can be costly.
"Right now, for the whole state of West Virginia, we all have to regroup and bounce back," he added. "We have to have a great outing at Colorado. We can make a statement for our team, and find out what our team is made of. We'll answer the call. We'll be ready on Thursday."