"I can't fault young men for giving effort and reaching for extra yardage and losing the ball, maybe cutting back over the middle and trying to make the big play when he should just get the first down."
The results of some of those "effort" plays have been negative for West Virginia. The Mountaineers lost four fumbles in the first half in their 35-24 win against Colorado on Thursday night. That performance came only one game after the team turned the ball over six times in a loss at Auburn.
At halftime of the CU win, WVU had turned the ball over 14 times in its last 10 quarters of football, dating back to its victory over East Carolina in the second game of the season. "How do you get them to stop fumbling?" Stewart asked, rhetorically. "Well, we'll put them in gauntlets today. We have ways to make them pay for putting the ball on the ground, but there are constructive ways to make them pay."
"I'm going to run them hard tonight after practice. I'm going to put them through gauntlets and try to punch the ball out every day this week. We're going to work on ball security. That's all I know to do."
The second-year coach emphasized that, while he will hold players accountable for their mistakes in fundamentals like not holding the ball "high and tight" to help prevent fumbling, getting in their faces or trying to change their style of play beyond those fundamentals would be counterproductive.
"You can't harness these guys and have them walking on eggshells," Stewart said. "I want them to play. You can't harp them to death. You have to let them make plays."
"You can't believe the coaches I've called this weekend. I wanted to know what they did when they were faced with what I'm faced with now. I've had some great answers. I know this -- to try to look like some tough, raving maniac on the sidelines; to scream at them ‘Don't fumble!' is not how you coach. End of story."
Instead, Stewart said the message is that the players need to understand just how many people rely on them to not make those critical mistakes -- that such errors can let down a person's teammates, coaches, fans and even themselves. The mistakes are only partially physical, and he said that players thus needed to "strain mentally" to correct them.
"Responsibility is the biggest word I'm going to hit on this week," he said. "All of those ‘ability' words – responsibility, accountability, dependability. We have great ability on this football team, but it seems like we are forgetting some of those buzz words."
LOOKING AHEAD TO SYRACUSE:
While WVU had its best day of the season rushing the ball against Colorado, it will go up against a run defense that has statistically been one of the nation's best when it travels to New York this weekend to take on the Orange.
The ‘Cuse ranks No. 15 nationally in that department -- just one slot behind WVU and fellow Big East member Rutgers, which are tied for the No. 13 slot.
The defense employed by new SU head coach Doug Marrone has focused on making its opponents as one-dimensional as possible and has found success doing so, limiting opponents to only 91.4 yards per game on the ground and only 2.86 yards per rushing attempt.
"They are coming from everywhere," Stewart said. "These guys are pressure defense. When you are restarting a program, you have two schools of thought. You can just go base and try to get better, or you do what they're doing right now."
"They are just loading the box and coming. If we can protect them, we're going to push them down the field. We are going to push the ball down the field. It's going to be a chess match."
On the other side of the ball, a WVU defense that has struggled at times against the pass will have to contend with the Orange's Mike Williams, a talented receiver who has quickly become a favorite target of quarterback Greg Paulus.
"You want to play against the best," Stewart said. "This guy is a great talent, as is Paulus. They have some weapons -- offensively, defensively and on special teams.
"I just see that (Williams) is a big boy. That's a concern. We got out-jumped in the end zone for the last touchdown against Colorado. (Defensive backs) Brandon (Hogan) and Robert (Sands) got beat when a guy went in the hole between them at Auburn."
"Our guys will be excited to play against them. They have really good players, and they're starting to gel."