Stew's Views: Rocky Mountain Highs (And Lows)

While his team fell to 1-2 in heartbreaking fashion a season ago in Boulder, Colo., WVU's head coach has often said since that his team came together on that day in a significant manner.

Indeed, in the 13 games since Bill Stewart's squad lost a 17-14 game in overtime at Folsom Field, the Mountaineers are a solid 10-3. That's a considerable turnaround from the 1-2 record West Virginia had in its first three games with Stewart as its head coach.

While the ledger may have called the CU game a loss, there were positives the coach took from the performance -- notably the fact that the defense, which was gashed for 14 points in the first five minutes of that game, didn't give up another point until a the overtime field goal that ended the contest.

Stewart and company built on those positives. Before long, the same defense that had struggled against Villanova and East Carolina in the opening two weeks of 2008 became the Mountaineers' backbone, pitching several key second half shutouts to keep its offense, which struggled at times, within striking distance.

"We grew up as a football team," Stewart said of the night of the Colorado loss a season ago.

The second-year head man compared the defeat in Boulder to one sustained by WVU when he was still an assistant under former coach Rich Rodriguez.

The 2003 Mountaineers lost a 22-20 heartbreaker in a nationally-televised game at then-No. 2 Miami. WVU took a late lead when Quincy Wilson turned a late screen pass on fourth-and-13 into the play of the college football season by eluding tacklers before steamrolling over Miami safety Brandon Merriweather and finding the end zone .

Still, a critical fourth down conversion by the Hurricanes on the next drive set up a game-winning field goal, and West Virginia left the Orange Bowl with a 1-4 record. Still, the team took momentum with it and went on to win its final seven regular season games.

"I knew that day that we had a football program coming together," Stewart said. "That's what I thought (again) last year (after the Colorado game)."

Examining the film of that loss once more may have been one time too many for the Mountaineers' head coach to stomach.

"I watched that thing this morning, and I got sick," he said. "I wish I hadn't done that. I saw it last year. I saw it over the summer. I watched it at 7:30 this morning with the offensive staff and I've been in a bad mood ever since."

EXAMINING THIS YEAR'S COLORADO TEAM:

The Buffaloes got off to a rocky start, falling to in-state rival Colorado State at home in the season-opener before hitting the road only five days later to lose in embarrassing fashion to Toledo, giving up 54 points in the process.

Head coach Dan Hawkins and his defense rebounded well in their third game, shutting out a Wyoming team that was only down 13-10 to No. 2 Texas at halftime of their game the week before.

"Colorado is a very dangerous team," Stewart said. "They didn't start off well but kind of settled back into basics, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, which is the side I watch more. The special teams are very, very sound with tremendous returners."

"They've misfired a little bit. Everybody knows that. They've made some breakdowns, and everyone knows that. But who hasn't in this season so far?"

That defense has had its ups-and-downs in the first three games, which may be partially due to its relative inexperience.

"They're a little bit younger this year than they were last year, although their linebackers have some age in that group," Stewart said. "But they played very, very hard at Wyoming and shut them out, so we're very much concerned about the Buffaloes."

Offensively, preparing to play CU means dealing with the son of its head coach, quarterback Cody Hawkins.

While the younger Hawkins' numbers are down this year (a career-low 5.59 yards per pass attempt and four interceptions compared to only five touchdowns), the CU signal-caller has the respect of Stewart and his staff.

"That guy is a gym rat," the WVU head coach said of Hawkins. "He's a film nut. He's a coach's kid. He knows what to do with the ball. He hurt us last year and that's why we tried to keep the ball away from them as best we could. We ran the ball so much trying to keep their offense off the field. He brings it all to the table. He gives maximum effort every time he's out. He's just a great, great competitor."

"This guy has ‘winner' written all over him."

UPDATING THE STATUS OF INJURED PLAYERS:

Stewart addressed the progress of Reed Williams, Scooter Berry and Jarrett Brown as each deals with separate injuries sustained in recent weeks.

"Jarrett had that big smile back and he was throwing lasers yesterday," said the Mountaineers' head coach. "He's fine. Reed's fine."

The prognosis may be a bit more bleak for Berry, whose shoulder has remained an issue since he hurt it in the second game of the season, a win over East Carolina.

"Scooter is still hobbled a little bit and he didn't hit yesterday," Stewart said. "He's got the motion better. His arm is coming along. I don't know how many snaps he'll get, but I can assure you of this -- big 16 (Brown) and 47 (Williams) will be in the lineup."

The reason for the caution with regards to Berry is not dissimilar from the situation faced by Williams a season ago, when it was ultimately decided he would take a medical redshirt to recover from a pair of offseason shoulder surgeries.

While, like Williams a season ago, Berry may be physically capable of playing at this point, he also might be at a higher risk of re-injuring himself. Stewart said he will not allow the defensive lineman to play as long as that is the case.

"He has motion, movement and the whole deal, but until he can protect himself -- I will never, ever play a young man who can not defend himself," he said.


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