"Things are brighter than we anticipated with injuries," Stewart noted two days after WVU's win in the Backyard Brawl. "It was a hard-hitting game, and a hard-fought emotional win. There weren't many big injuries on either side, which is sort of a surprise with the way the young men were hitting each other."
Stewart reiterated his pleasure in amassing a 7-0 home record – the first time the Mountaineers have been unblemished on its home turf since the undefeated 1993 season.
"It's a real legacy they left. They played extra special here at home," Stewart observed.
Of course, the trick now is to take that level of play on the road, where West Virginia hasn't been as successful this year. Stewart has given plenty of thought to that, and plans to go back to a proven method he used last year at Connecticut. For that game, Stewart used the "set the alarms" approach, to make sure his team was ready to play in a noon kickoff. With the boot for the Rutgers game set for high noon, a re-emphasis of that strategy could be just what West Virginia needs to get its ninth win of the season.
That won't be a simple task against a Scarlet Knight squad that has, according to Stewart, improved over the course of the season. That could be up for a bit of debate, as Rutgers has sandwiched wins over USF and Louisville around a puzzling loss to Syracuse, but like most coaches, Stewart is going to emphasize the positives of upcoming foes.
"Rutgers was hitting on all cylinders against Louisville. They absolutely dismantled them. This is a darn good Rutgers team. We will have to play disciplined, sound and hard.
"Rutgers has gotten better in November," Stewart continued. "That's what good football teams do. What they did to South Florida (31-0 shellacking) and Louisville (34-14) could happen to us. They will be gunning for the Mountaineers, and it will be a gut check. Their quarterback is keeping them in every game and they had a young running back step up."
While quarterback Tom Savage has certainly grown into the job as a freshman, Rutgers' latest revelation has been running back Mohamed Sanu, who accounted for 148 rushing yards and two scores out of the wildcat offense against Louisville.
Stewart was complimentary of a defense that, while yielding yardage, held Pitt's offense out of the end zone for three quarters.
"The defense was flying around and emotional. They played with abandon, but played smart football. This is the second game in a row we've had our starting 11 back."
In particular, Stewart was pleased with the play of free safety Robert Sands, who picked off one pass and deflected three others.
"I might have to put him on the JUGS gun so he'll catch some of those deflections," Stewart joked, "but from what I have seen and according to Coach Dunlap, he is getting it more and more. He's absorbing more and more, and it's coming to him. He is playing like a veteran and he's just a sophomore, and that's really good."
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Despite a less-than-capacity crowd, due to the Thanksgiving holiday and the light turnout from Pitt's pathetically small fan base The Panthers returned some 1,200 tickets that it could not sell), Stewart still felt the effects of those that supported the home team.
"I want to thank the Mountaineer Nation for its support," he said. "The crowd pumped our players up. They rose to the occasion every time."
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The team will be back on a normal schedule this week, with a return to a Saturday game. The team was off yesterday, although everyone scheduled for treatment did put in time at the Puskar Center. Regular practices for game week will continue Sunday evening and through the week. Although it's the end of a long regular season, they will still don pads in mid-week practices before heading to New Jersey on Friday.