"It's been a long time coming," said head coach Bill Stewart during his weekly press conference at the Puskar Center. "We need to play. I'm sure everybody feels the same way. The players are getting antsy, I'm getting antsy and I'm sure (the media) is getting antsy. It's good to have basketball (season) here to divert some attention because two weeks (between games) at this time of the year is just a long, long time.
"We're pretty healthy," he continued. "We're working hard. Practices have been good. Last week they were good. I was really proud of the team last Friday. Sunday they came back and I was proud of them. I'm anxious to see how they practice (this week). I think they'll work hard. I sure hope so."
Among those who benefitted the most from the open week was quarterback Jarrett Brown. The chief understudy to senior starter Patrick White has not played since starting the October 11 victory over Syracuse. Brown has nursed injuries to his shoulder and thigh over the past month, but is ready to return to the field on Saturday.
"Jarrett Brown is back, ready to go, and you will see him in the backfield," Stewart declared. "I'm not going to tell you where, but you will see him in the backfield."
Prior to his injuries, Brown filled a dual role of quarterback and third-down running specialist. Expect him to reprise that role in some capacity against the Cardinals.
With no game to prepare for this past Saturday, Stewart had a chance to watch Friday night's Keg of Nails showdown between Louisville and Cincinnati. Watching the game on TV gave WVU's jovial head coach a different perspective on the game.
"I did not cheer for anyone; I just watched football," Stewart explained. "In the third quarter I had to get up because I was just beside myself. I was just jumpy. I don't know how people are fans. God bless our fans and God bless our wives. To sit through that and watch us play must be excruciating.
"I hope I'll always be a fan," continued the Wetzel County native. "I just had a hard time watching that football game. When you're in it you have control of it, at least some control of it. Win or lose, at least you have some control of the game."
Aside from his own nerves, there were other things that stood out to Stewart as he watched the game on TV from his couch instead of watching from a seat in one of the Puskar Center's film rooms.
"The TV copy can give you some things," he admitted. "You can see people, some body language and some different things. That's the big thing about recruiting. When we get a video from a high school coach, he shows the player and the play. You don't see the guy going to the sidelines, slamming their helmet in disgust, getting in the coach's face, or in the players' face. You don't see that stuff.
"For me, to watch a TV game, that's a treat. I don't watch much TV. I've told you all that. I watched that game. On Thursday nights, I try to get home to watch the Thursday night game, particularly if I have a buddy playing I'll watch.
"So, you see things. You see the guys on the sideline. You see the guys after a dropped ball. That TV game was good for me to watch."
Finally, there are some interesting parallels that can be drawn using Stewart and Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe. Both coaches took over successful programs who were coming off of a Big East Championship and BCS bid. As such, both coaches have been – for better or for worse – compared to their predecessors (Bobby Petrino at U of L and Rich Rodriguez at WVU).
"The toughest thing about coming into a program that is winning is to keep it winning," Stewart said. "That's tough. Look at the past 10, 15, 20 years of football. There have been people who have taken over successful programs and lost."
A vocal minority of West Virginia's fans have scrutinized Stewart's every move, from his coaching staff hires to his sideline demeanor to…well, you name it. And while Stewart, to his credit, understands that some will always judge him against the program's past, he hopes that others will allow the future to unfold before ultimately determining how successful he is.
"They're going to judge me, I would hope, four or five years down the road on what we've done, how we've done with discipline, what this recruiting class is going to be like, how the season is going to end," he said. " I'm not overjoyed to be 6-3, but I'm OK. I'm happy.
"If I say stuff like we lost Owen Schmitt, we lost Steve Slaton, we lost Darius Reynaud, then they say I'm whining. If I say we're going to be great, then they say he paints a rosy picture. There is a fine line there.
"I don't know what people will say about me, but I know some things they won't say. I'll share those sometime with you. Another time."