Stew's Views - Cincinnati

Bill Stewart touched on a variety of topics during his weekly press conference at the Puskar Center.

When Cincinnati's offense takes the field on Saturday night in Morgantown, the Bearcats could be led by any one of three quarterbacks.

Veteran Dustin Grutza began the season as the starter before suffering a broken leg in a loss at Oklahoma. Grutza has started off and on throughout his collegiate career, sharing time as a sophomore with Nick Davilla in 2006 before backing up Ben Mauk all of last season.

Junior Tony Pike replaced Grutza, and leads the Bearcats with 1051 yards passing and nine touchdowns in six games. Pike broke a bone in his non-throwing arm in a win over Akron, but returned to action in a loss two weeks ago at Connecticut. Pike started Cincinnati's win last week over South Florida.

Redshirt freshman Chazz Anderson has also seen playing time, starting games against Marshall and Rutgers and seeing significant action in the second half at UConn.

Luckily for Bill Stewart and the Mountaineers, preparing for multiple quarterbacks is nothing new. In recent games against Auburn and UConn, West Virginia has had to prepare for multiple signal callers.

"It's a lot like preparing for Auburn," Stewart noted during his weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon. "We had to prepare for a power running game, a spread game, a no-huddle game. That was tough on our defense. What they did that week I hope we can emulate. We have to look at base plays and crucial situations. That's why we have (film) cut-ups. When you put down and distance tendencies up or you put the red zone up, everyone better know what they're doing.

"I wish I had a clue (who is going to start). You just prepare as best as you can."

No matter who starts for the Bearcats, West Virginia's defense will have its hands full against Brian Kelly and company. Cincinnati leads the conference in passing offense at 260.88 yards per game, despite the revolving door at quarterback.

"We're up against it," Stewart shrugged. "We're up against a great coaching staff and a heck of a quarterback, whoever it is. Brian (Kelly) does such a great job that it doesn't matter who is back there.

"They will be very, very difficult," Stewart continued. "If we can just make it so that it's not second and six, second and five, third and three or third and two, we can keep them in front of us. We can't let them catch the ball. I told our guys that when the ball is in the air, they have just as much right to it as we do. Go catch the ball. I hope that we can do that."

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The Bearcats are also the conference's best at returning kickoffs. Keep an eye on that Saturday night as West Virginia ranks dead last in college football in kick coverage. The Mountaineers have struggled all season to cover kicks, and arguably have yet to see a return team as prolific as Cincinnati.

As WVU's special teams coordinator, Stewart will likely make some personnel changes on the kickoff team this week.

"I guess I've been a little bit too forgiving," Stewart admitted. "I keep waiting, and waiting and waiting on guys that I know can make plays. They haven't done very well, so I'm going to make a few changes this week."

The Mountaineers used to play a number of their defensive starters on the kickoff team. In recent years, recruiting efforts have made the talent pool in Morgantown a little bit deeper.

"As we've gotten better at recruiting, in each class we felt we got more speed and more guys who could play well in space, more talent in space," Stewart said. "We've gotten some of these so-called special teams guys.

"Some of these guys are starters," he continued. "Johnny Holmes has started. He's a fourth-year guy. I consider him a starter, and he's done a great job. Ovid (Goulbourne) has done a great job. We just don't have any slashers on special teams like we used to."

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Of course personnel changes would have likely been coming anyway on the kickoff unit. Two starters, reserve linebacker Archie Sims and safety Courtney Stuart, left the win over Connecticut with injuries.

"Courtney Stuart is out for three to six weeks," said the head coach. "I hate that. The young man has come in here and done a great job. Courtney Stuart has been really good."

Stewart suffered a knee injury while covering a first-half kickoff and came out for the second half wearing sweats and a sizeable knee brace while walking on crutches. Sims sustained a head injury on special teams. He attempted to run off the field, but quickly fell to the turf.

"I talked to him today," Stewart said. "I asked him what planet he was on and he said he was on Earth. He looked at me like he was on Jupiter. He wasn't quite to Pluto, but he was on Jupiter."

The kickoff unit could get a boost from senior walk-on Jim Lewis, who broke a bone in his leg in the first half of a loss to Colorado and has been out of action ever since. Though Lewis is getting closer to returning, Stewart would not fully commit to him playing against Cincinnati.

"He is very, very close," Stewart said. "I wish I could say that he is ready to go but I just can't. I wish he was. He is a one-man wrecking crew on that kickoff team. He may play. We may put him in there. I just don't want to lose him this week and not be able to play him in the final three games.

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Finally, the Mountaineers re-entered both major Top 25 polls this weekend. While the recognition is nice, you won't find Stewart posting the rankings anywhere inside the Puskar Center.

"I know polls are good," he said. "That's good for hype and the people and selling tickets and promotes TV games. They are not good for a football team. They're good at the end of the year, and they're nice when recruiting comes around.

"I don't say that to shy away," he continued. "I don't know how many young guys, but somebody said that 11 out of the 22 are freshmen and sophomores. I worry about them, I really do. Call it coach paranoia. Everyone wants to be loved. Isn't that what President Bush said? Sometimes you make tough decisions and you don't get loved. Our football team would like to be loved, sure, but I wish they would wait until the end of the season."


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