Stew's Views: Striking Quickly

The Mountaineers' head coach hopes to flip the script on Thursday night and take an early advantage on a team that jumped out to an early lead in Boulder, Colo., last season.

"We are going to try to keep them off balance," said Bill Stewart of the defense of this week's opponent, Colorado. I don't want them to be able to hone in on us. I don't want them to bend and not break. I want to see if we can break them and break them early."

That formula was one the Buffaloes rode all the way to victory a season ago when West Virginia came to Folsom Field.

CU scored two touchdowns in the first five minutes to grab a lightning-quick 14-0 lead. While the offense of head coach Dan Hawkins was largely stymied by WVU's 3-3-5 attack from that point forward, enough damage had already been done to force the game to overtime, where Colorado ultimately prevailed 17-14.

While Stewart has often said that his team "grew up" after that loss, it could be argued that his defense, which ultimately became the backbone of the 2008 team, flipped the proverbial switch after those first five minutes of regulation play.

The Mountaineers had given up 21 and 24 points in the first two games of that season and looked to be on pace for another rough outing when the Buffaloes jumped out to their quick start.

But from that point forward, the defense grew into the team's biggest strength, often keeping its teammates on the offense (which was struggling at times to adapt to the new scheme of coordinator Jeff Mullen) within striking distance in games.

"(Defensive coordinator) Jeff Casteel made some adjustments last year (against Colorado) that shut them down pretty well," Stewart said.

"I think our guys knew they could contain those guys."

Flash forward to 2009, and the defense comes into the game against CU dealing with some early-season struggles once more. Of particular concern is the 41 points that Auburn rolled up against West Virginia in its last game.

That means the defense has another chance to turn around its season on a Thursday night -- and it gets the opportunity to do so against the same Colorado program it used as a momentum-builder last season.

"We are different this year, but we want to take a look at their personnel (from last year)," Stewart said. "I want to look at how they attacked us. We learned, the staff learned and the players learned (last year) so hopefully we won't make those same mistakes."


While Colorado has had its own share of defensive issues early in the 2009 season (notably giving up 54 points to Toledo in a loss), it may have turned a corner in that department by shutting out Wyoming in its last game.

Stewart said that upon reviewing the film of that game, he felt that CU found success on defense by taking a "back-to-basics" approach and playing things a bit safer.

"They stayed very basic and played their 4-3 base plan with a lot of two deep (coverage), like the pros do," Stewart said. "They were soft on the corners, blitzed when they had to and played Colorado football."

"They bent at times, but they never broke."

While some fans may have chalked up this game as a win for WVU after the Buffaloes lost to Colorado State and Toledo, Stewart said he was impressed with the performance against Wyoming, a program he was familiar with during his days as an assistant coach at Air Force, which was also in the WAC.

"We expect a very formidable opponent to come in here on Thursday night," said the second-year Mountaineer head coach. "They showed how they can play in their game against Wyoming. I think these Buffaloes have yet to play their best football."

"It's indicative of what they can do when they are gelling, what I saw them do against Wyoming."

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