Stew's Views: "In-State Battle"

While the WVU football team steps out of Big East Conference play this weekend for the final time in the 2009 regular season, its head coach said that he doesn't feel that motivation should be a problem with the Mountaineers facing a familiar opponent.

Whether West Virginia finishes Saturday afternoon's contest with Marshall on the winning or losing end of the ledger likely won't have any impact on the team's postseason bowl destination, but head coach Bill Stewart said there is plenty more on the line this weekend.

"We have to get ready for an in-state battle which has a lot riding on it in terms of pride in the state," Stewart said on the Big East Coaches' teleconference Monday. "More importantly than that, it's recruiting. (A win) is something we need to happen for recruiting."

Just one week after entering into conference play, the team will face Conference USA's Herd in the annual Friends of Coal Bowl.

Making the mental transition from earning a pivotal first Big East win in last Saturday's 34-13 victory over Syracuse to a game that has no impact on WVU's fortunes in its league is a point of emphasis for Stewart and his coaching staff this week.

That task might be more difficult if the team's players know about the history of the series. Not since the two teams faced each other for the first time in 1911 (a 17-15 WVU win) has the outcome been decided by fewer than 11 points.

The most lopsided win in West Virginia program history also occurred against the Herd, when the team won 92-6 in Huntington in a game played in 1915.

"It's always tough because you don't know where your lads' minds are," the second-year head coach said. "We push (the importance of winning in) the Big East so hard, as we always have done and will continue to do."

"(The Marshall game) is bragging rights for another year. We certainly don't want that to change in any way. I hope our young men can get in their heads that this is a very big football game for West Virginia University."

To win that "very big football game," Stewart and company will have to deal with the threat of MU running back Darius Marshall, who is the nation's No. 2 rusher in terms of average yards gained per contest (147.4)

While the Mountaineer run defense is perhaps its team's greatest strength (ranking No. 10 nationally in that area, allowing opponents an average of only 84.6 yards per game on the ground), Stewart said that the defense will be facing a quality running back against the Herd.

The head coach compared Marshall to his own runner, Noel Devine, who slots in just behind the MU star in the national rankings as the No. 3 rusher in the country in terms of average.

"Those guys are winners," Stewart said. "They're competitors. They run very, very hard for their size. Darius is bigger than Noel. Noel is a strong 176 pounds. Darius looks to me like he's about 190 or 195. He's a bit taller and bigger. They both just run well behind their pads, with them down low."

Beyond the ability to make things happen after receiving handoffs, Stewart also said that Marshall and Devine both do a good job of having an impact on plays that are not called runs.

""They can catch the ball," he said. "They'll block. When I see a youngster go out and block for his buddy or the quarterback, or when it's a broken play and he comes back and gets a block, that means the kid is a hell of a football player. Both of these young men are like that. They're very comparable."


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