Stew's Views: Cardinal Importance

While West Virginia's opponent this Saturday has struggled through the past couple of seasons, the Mountaineers' head coach does not anticipate an easy contest at Milan Puskar Stadium.

"I anticipate another Big East banger," said WVU head coach Bill Stewart. "We just bang each other up. This shouldn't differ from the norm in any shape or form."

Louisville, WVU's opponent on Saturday, has been on the wrong end of most of those contests in recent years. In three seasons with head coach Steve Kragthorpe at the helm, the Cardinals are a paltry 4-13 against Big East opposition.

Those struggles have come on the heels of the highly successful Bobby Petrino era at U of L. Petrino took the Cards to an Orange Bowl championship at the end of the 2006 season, his final run in Bluegrass country.

The pressure has been building on Kragthorpe this season, as the Cardinals sit at 3-5 overall, including an 0-3 mark in Big East games. The team's three wins have come against inferior opponents -- Indiana State, Southern Miss and Arkansas State.

Even two of those wins have been by a mere one possession, as both USM (25-23) and ASU (21-13) kept it close with the Cards before falling.

Add in another loss to in-state rival Kentucky and a 41-10 defeat at the hands of border rival Cincinnati (the most lopsided U of L loss to the Bearcats since 1951), and it has not been a season to remember in Louisville.

Of course, some of those struggles may be at least partially due to the team's quarterback situation, which has resembled a game of musical chairs at times in 2009.

Three quarterbacks -- Adam Froman, Justin Burke and Will Stein -- have attempted at least 52 passes for the Cardinals this season, as Kragthorpe has had to deal with injury and performance issues at that key position.

It was Stein who led the charge in his team's victory over Arkansas State this past week, throwing for 232 yards on 20-of-39 passing. The redshirt freshman was picked off once, but still managed to secure the win.

While both Froman and Burke were out due to injury in that game, the more glaring absence may have been that of running back Victor Anderson, who is the team's leading rusher with 480 yards on the season while boasting a 5.6 yards per carry average.

Having to prepare for so many interchangeable parts on the U of L side of things may make life more difficult for Stewart and his staff this week.

"You prepare for what you think the base will be, then you have to react to everything else," the second-year West Virginia head coach said. "Heck, a team could come out and jump in the wishbone one weekend, but you have to prepare for the base."

"Knowing the fine coach that Steve Kragthorpe is, has been and will be, I don't think he will leave his base too awful much, much like everyone else in the conference. We have to shut down the run. That's first and foremost in each and every game. Then we have to react to the pass and see if they go empty or with four wides or three wides."

UPDATE ON BRADLEY STARKS:

The receiver, who was limited last week, practiced with the team on Sunday. Stewart said he expected Starks to be "full speed by Saturday."

"He will play, and unless something flies out of the sky, he will be full speed," the head coach said. "I believe that from what the doctors tell me."

The head coach offered no further updates on the status of other Mountaineers that may have been among those he said were "banged up" -- notably, nose tackle Chris Neild and linebacker Reed Williams.

"We have a somewhat bruised team, but we're not hurt," Stewart said. "That being said, we have some guys that need to get back out there and play and get better at what we do."

LOOKING BACK AT USF:

While the team's 30-19 loss to South Florida was already three days old by the time the regional media got to speak to Stewart on Monday's Big East coaches' teleconference, he was asked several questions concerning various aspects of the defeat.

"I was very proud of our guys' effort," the second-year coach said, as part of his opening statement. "Boy, there was a lot of hitting going on in that ball game. We got banged up, and it looked like some of the Bulls got banged up. It was a good, hard-fought game -- a good Big East game."

"I sure hated to come out on the losing end, but we did. It's something we have to grow from and learn from and continue to press onward. That game is behind us now. We will just take our mistakes and correct them and take the good things we did and try to improve on them even more."

Stewart discussed the challenges that the Bulls presented, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, where big plays abounded for the home team. USF had seven plays of 20 yards or more, some of which were made possible by the balance that quarterback B.J. Daniels brought to the table.

"Every coach in America will tell you that if you run the ball, your passing game opens in great, great strides," he said. "I don't know how to tell people any more than what I say -- our goal every game is to establish the run first and foremost. On defense, our goal is to stop the run. When you do that, regardless of what people who think they are experts think, that is what wins football games, by and large."

"I thought they did a nice job mixing it up. They ran the ball. The quarterback broke contain. When he threw a couple of long balls, he hit a couple of them. That's as plain as I could see it."

Defensively, it was not just the standout defensive end duo of George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul that gave WVU fits. Stewart also singled out USF linebacker Kion Wilson, while giving credit to Bulls coach Jim Leavitt for having his entire defense ready for the varied attack the Mountaineers had been utilizing in 2009.

"My God, they were all flying around out there," Stewart said. "They played hard. I thought their inside guys played well. They played very well on defense. They have great athletes down there, and Jimmy has them playing. I compliment Jimmy and his staff on both sides of the ball. They had a plan and they beat us."


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