Stew's Views: "Finish The Fight"

With his team preparing for "round seven" of the Big East Conference schedule in the regular-season finale against Rutgers, WVU head coach Bill Stewart wants no talk of bowls or anything else to distract his players this week.

The second-year head coach quickly discouraged the media from asking any questions about possible bowl destinations, as reports have begun to circulate that the Mountaineers may have the inside track at a berth in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.

As officials from that game have publicly stated their desire to have Florida State play in Jacksonville, Fla., for long-time coach Bobby Bowden's final game on the Seminoles' sideline, it may be a natural fit for the game to pit Bowden against West Virginia.

After all, Morgantown was the last place that college football's second-leading coach in terms of all-time victories held a job before heading to Tallahassee.

None of that was on the mind of the Mountaineers' head coach on Tuesday.

"I will not answer one question -- I will not embarrass you, but I will go on to the next person if you ask me one question about game 13," Stewart said to the media as part of his opening statement.

"I don't know about bowls. I don't care about bowls."

That caveat apparently is to be extended to Tuesday night, when the media will meet with WVU players after their evening practice, as per usual.

"Do not ask my players (about) that tonight, or the staff," Stewart said. "If you do, they will be instructed to walk away from you. Please let us get through game 12 at Rutgers."

With that said, the majority of questions did focus on this weekend's matchup with the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, N.J.

While West Virginia has dominated the series with its Big East Conference foes, winning the last 14 games between the two teams, Stewart said that this year's Rutgers team, like many since head coach Greg Schiano took over the program, is a strong one.

"Rutgers is on fire," Stewart said of the 8-3 Scarlet Knights.

"It couldn't be a better setting. I understand the weather's going to be good and they're going to be chopping wood," he continued, referring to Schiano's mantra for his program. "We'll have that log out there and the wood will be spinning and flying. That's okay. We've been in some pretty hostile environments."

Still, the Mountaineers have had their issues on the road in 2009, winning only once in four games this season away from the friendly confines of Milan Puskar Stadium.

That victory came against a Syracuse team that is tied with Louisville at the bottom of the Big East standings.

"I'm not pleased with our away record in any way, shape or form," Stewart said. "I'm very disappointed that we've only won one on the road. We've done good on the road here in the past few years."

However, RU had its own issues in dealing with the Orange. Syracuse's only win in league play came against Schiano and company on Nov. 21, a 31-13 shellacking at the Carrier Dome.

That game came only one week after the Scarlet Knights had thoroughly dispatched South Florida in a 31-0 drubbing at Rutgers Stadium -- the same USF team that embarrassed WVU 30-19 in Tampa.

"Is it going to be the Rutgers that totally dismantled South Florida?" Stewart wondered aloud. "Is it going to be the Rutgers that dismantled Louisville? Or is it going to be the Rutgers that played against Syracuse and Cincinnati?"

"I don't know, and I don't care. All I'm worried about is the Mountaineers. Will it be the Mountaineers that went down to South Florida and stunk the place up for three quarters? Will it be the Mountaineers that did not finish in Auburn in the fourth quarter?"

Key to avoiding another road loss will be the play of the WVU defense against RU freshman quarterback Tom Savage.

Savage, a blue-chip recruit out of Cardinal O'Hara High School in Springfield, Pa., took over for seniors Dom Natale and Jabu Lovelace in the middle of the Scarlet Knights' 47-15 loss to Cincinnati in their season-opener.

He has held the starting job from that point forward and led Rutgers to an 8-2 record as the starter.

"That youngster has just stepped up and made plays," said Stewart of Savage. "Why do some youngsters step up and make those plays? They've got ‘it' -- like (former Mountaineers) coach (Don) Nehlen used to say. Whatever ‘it' is, they've got it. He's got ‘it.'"

"We've got to rattle him. I don't know if we can. He's been hit, he's been knocked down. He just makes plays. He's a good player."

While Savage might have that intangible ‘it' quality, he may not have his best wide receiver for this weekend's contest, as RU's Tim Brown has been listed as day-to-day by Schiano.

Regardless of who suits up for the opposition, Stewart's message to the Mountaineers is likely to remain constant this week -- reinforcing the "round seven" theme -- as he tries to keep players focused on the task at hand.

"This week, we're going there to finish the fight," he said.

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