West Virginia is off this week after Saturday night's overtime home defeat to Cincinnati. According to head coach Bill Stewart, the bye week could not come at a better time for the Mountaineers, who need to regroup both physically and mentally from the heartbreaking loss to the Bearcats.
"We're banged up as I'm sure Cincinnati is banged up and I'm sure every team in the league is banged up," Stewart said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference at the Puskar Center. "I didn't realize how banged up Pittsburgh was until I heard Dave on the conference call (Monday)."
Two starters – center Mike Dent and fullback Will Johnson – missed the UC game due to injuries. Dent injured his neck in the win over Connecticut and is listed as week-to-week. His status for next weekend's game at Louisville is still unclear. Johnson will not practice this week in order to rest his injured quadriceps.
"Will Johnson was hurt," Stewart said. "His position coach, Doc Holliday, asked him before the game (if he could play). I met with Will's mother on Sunday. I thought she was going to whip me when she came in, but she thanked me for not playing her son when he was not able to. I will never do that. I will ask them ‘Can you go? Can you protect yourself?' That's how it is. I won't put my son out there like that, so why would I put someone else's out there?"
Pat White took a number of hard hits in the loss, but will not miss any practice time. Stewart said the only current injury his starting quarterback has is a small cut on his right (non-throwing) hand.
Backup quarterback/third-down specialist Jarrett Brown has been nursing injuries to his shoulder and quadriceps. Brown, who has not played since starting and playing every snap in WVU's win over Syracuse on October 11, is almost certain to return to the field next Saturday in Louisville.
"We're turning him loose," Stewart said of the junior understudy. "You'll see. Jarrett Brown will be back in the backfield, healed and ready to go. We know what works and by the time the game gets here Jarrett Brown will be ready. We'll have the two quarterbacks back. This is the stretch run and we're trying to get the best players we have on the field. Jarrett Brown was not 100 percent, but he will be come (next Saturday). "Unless he gets hurt in practice, he will be back in doing the things he was doing."
Walk-on reserve linebacker Jim Lewis is also expected to return. Lewis broke a bone in his foot during the first half of West Virginia's September 18 loss at Colorado but still managed to play in that game's second half. He has not played since. His return could boost a kickoff coverage unit that ranks dead last in that category among the nation's 119 Division I FBS teams.
With an open date this week, Stewart will send much of his coaching staff on the road recruiting. Five Mountaineer assistants are either currently on the road or have been on the road already this week while four have been at the Puskar Center exclusively. Seven assistants are expected to be out on Friday night making the rounds at high school games in each of West Virginia's recruiting areas.
"We need to get out and go recruiting," Stewart said. "Recruiting is going very well. I'm very excited about what's going on in recruiting right now. Very excited."
West Virginia received verbal commitments on Monday evening from Miramar (Fla.) standouts Eugene Smith (quarterback) and Steadman Bailey (wide receiver).
Trailing by 11 with 1:11 to play on Saturday night, Stewart opted to go for a touchdown and two-point conversion first instead of trying a field goal followed by an onside kick and then going for the touchdown. The philosophy, he said, was to seize the momentum West Virginia had gained.
"I didn't want to stop. I wanted to score, make the two-point play and go for the kick," he explained. "Some weeks it's better than others. I wanted to score, I wanted our players to knock them out and go get the score. I wanted the two-point conversion. I wanted everybody on the team, the whole bench, my team and our team to know that we were playing our hearts out and coaching our hearts out to win the game. That's why we did that.
"The two-point play was excellent," he continued. "The onside kick was even better. The field goal was great and just got better and better and better. I wanted to take one more shot, one more play at the end zone (before McAfee's field goal) but there were only five seconds left. I wanted one more shot but we didn't take it. We kicked the field goal, and I was proud to see Patrick McAfee do that. The snap was good, the hold was good, the blocking had been good all day. We've done a fine job on kicking field goals."
Needless to say, Stewart's strategy paid off as West Virginia was able to tie the game and send it to overtime.
With the open date, there are five things Stewart wants to accomplish before West Virginia begins preparing for next Saturday's game at Louisville.
"Number one, get healthy. Number two, we have to establish the kickoff team. Number three is short-yardage on both sides of the ball," said the first-year head coach. "We put so much emphasis in practice. Number four, we have to get off the field on third down. We won the possession time again this week, which was good. What we really have to do is, number five, get some turnovers.
"We need to stress getting turnovers. We've been really good at that, especially at Connecticut."
West Virginia and Louisville will kick at noon next Saturday.