Despite repeated attempts to convey the fact that he is not looking past Friday's game against Pittsburgh, West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart was besieged by questions on Sunday concerning WVU's BCS bowl chances (and the damage done thereto by Cincinnati's win over the Panthers). After handling several different variations of the question, Stewart finally lost his cool a bit – and rightfully so.
"I don't address the BCS bowl situation with the players. I don't talk with them about that," Stewart said forcefully. "I talk with them about Pitt. That's all. I keep trying to tell people that, and they keep trying to talk about [other things]."
While fans and media are free to look ahead and ignore the next game, coaches aren't. Sure, they might take a few moments to glance at the league standings, but they simply can't go off message with their team. It's tough enough to keep 120 players focused on the task at hand. Going over bowl scenarios or conference tiebreakers would be unnecessary, and a waste of time. Why that's so difficult for some writers to understand is a mystery.
On the topic of the Louisville game, Stewart reiterated his frustration with the halftime score.
"I was very upset at the half, as frustrated as I could be. We had good plays and didn't get in the end zone. We're just not doing it. But we did play well in the third quarter, and I was very pleased in the running game. Jarrett Brown looked sluggish to me, maybe not back all the way. But we got going and went in another direction, so we didn't use him as much as we had planned."
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Stewart was so upset that he profusely thanked one columnist who asked a question about halftime adjustments and their importance to this year's team West Virginia has struggled in the first half of many games, and then rallied with much better play in the final thirty minutes.
"I guess this coaching staff, as dumb as they are, is doing something right at halftime," Stewart said with more than a hint of sarcasm. "Sometimes it takes some time to figure someone else out. Wouldn't it be great if every heavyweight championship fight were a first round knockout that was over in the first 30 seconds? How good would that be? You understand what I'm saying? But really, our coaches do a great job in figuring out how people are going to play us each week. But sometimes things are different. We spent all week on Rutgers on their pressure package, and they rolled out the ECU defense on us. It can take some time to adjust, and we get murdered for it because we don't do it in the first half."
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Stewart was told that Heinz Field may face another resodding this week, but he joked that he didn't care what surface the game was played on.
"We can meet up there at Washington and Jefferson and play," he said.
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Stewart said that injured linebackers J.T. Thomas and Anthony Leonard will practice this week and will be ready to go against the Panthers. He praised the players' dedication to treatment and rehab sessions. He did not comment on Chris Neild, who was hobbled with a foot injury against the Cardinals.
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Stewart continued to worry about time of possession, and explained why he puts so much importance on it. He admitted that he certainly would take the 21-7 scoring advantage WVU enjoyed in the third quarter over the Cardinals, even though the Mountaineers had the ball for just 4:16.
"Of course I'll take the points, but we've harped on the defense about getting off the field. We need to get turnovers. We didn't get off the field as much as I'd like but we did create some turnovers in the second half. But their time of possession was six minutes more than us in the third quarter. That frustrated me, that we couldn't get the ball off of them."
Two second half Louisville drives were actually stopped, then extended and turned into touchdowns when WVU committed penalties on the ensuing Cardinal punt.
"One of those [penalties] I'll take," said Stewart, who noted before the game that he thought West Virginia could block a Louisville punt. "I wanted to turn the game, but I thought that our guy tipped it, too. I was playing to win and not to lose.
"The 12 man penalty, that was bad communication. We got that straightened out in a staff meeting this morning."
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After heaping his usual praise on the opposing coaching staff, Stewart noted that facing Pitt is "like old home week."
"It's like playing your brothers in a game," Stewart said after a recitation of all the relationships he has with the Pitt staff. "Now, I don't want to be misconstrued, I want to beat Pitt as bad as anyone. And I think it's going to be a rough, tough hard hitting football game."
Stewart again credited Pitt for what it did in winning the 2007 game, but refused to be baited into calling the 2008 contest a revenge game.
Pitt came in and racked us around pretty good last year, and I see same type of intensity this year. But we're not talking about revenge. We're not trying to incite anything. You spend all your life worrying about revenge, you will be an unhappy person. What we have to do is worry about 2008 and play a good football game. That may make people mad, but that's what we are looking for."
After rebuffing a couple more questions along those lines, Stewart again drew one of his own.
"That was last year – let's worry about this year," he said of the payback line. "It's Pitt week. That's all we need to worry about. That's all I care about right now."