Opener Awaits

Conventional wisdom would state that Coastal Carolina should be in for a long day when it visits Morgantown to open up the 2010 season with a game against WVU. But Mountaineers head coach Bill Stewart said those who expect a cakewalk for his team "have absolutely no idea what college football is about."

That may come as a surprise to some, as the Chanticleers struggled in 2009. They limped along to a 5-6 record in Football Championship Subdivision play and were only 3-3 in the Big South Conference.

But the first game of a new season presents teams a chance to surprise their opponents with some new wrinkles, and West Virginia's third-year head coach said he expects an aggressive approach from Coastal this Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.

"Last year was a little bit down for them. We know that," Stewart said, participating in Monday morning's Big East Conference coaches' teleconference.

"That just means they'll come back more savvy and more hungry. They have nothing to lose. I've told our guys we need to be alert in the kicking game -- fakes, onside kicks. Deep balls, maybe they think they can exploit one of our corners or two."

Perhaps Stewart expects that all-out approach because he has known Chanticleers head coach David Bennett for several years.

Bennett is heading into his eighth season on the sidelines in Conway, S.C., just outside of Myrtle Beach. He sports a 50-29 record at Coastal, with the highlights coming in 2004-06, when his squad won three straight Big South championships. Bennett was named the national FCS Coach of the Year in 2006.

But times have been tougher since then, as the Chants have gone 16-18 the last three years. Stewart said nothing has happened to diminish the quality of coaching Bennett has been able to provide his players.

"He's done extremely well at every stop along the tour," Stewart said. "He's a real fine, fine football coach, along with being a fine human being. I just respect him a lot. "I think he was a great choice for Coastal way back, and I consider him still a great choice. I hope he has a long, fine career and wish him nothing but the best, except for this coming Saturday. Then, I'm going to forget that I like him."

Stewart believes the core of the Chanticleers' approach will be based around a defense that loads the box and plays a lot of man-to-man coverage in the passing game and an offense that relies on spreading the field to give senior quarterback Zach MacDowall, a transfer from Wake Forest, plenty of targets in the aerial attack.

But as is often the case, the Mountaineers' head coach said the element of surprise is a greater threat because this is the season-opener for both teams.

"You never know what's going to go on in the first game, so you try to prepare for everything," Stewart said.

As for his own team, the WVU head man said he has not given any thought to whether he allow starting quarterback Geno Smith some extra time on the field if the game were to turn into a blowout to give the true sophomore some extra experience heading into the meat of the schedule.

That is largely because Stewart disputes the notion that it is a given that his team will have secured a victory early in the contest.

"We'll just play it by ear," he said. "We've got a plan. We'll wait and see how the game progresses, and maybe we'll get into that thinking at halftime or something like that, or the third or fourth quarter."

As to which of the two true freshman signal-callers might see action if Smith does head to the sidelines, Stewart said the battle between Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson is still raging with three days of practice to go before the season begins.

"The guys are still being evaluated," he said. "Right now, they're both pretty even. It's neck-and-neck."

With the season just getting ready to kick off on Saturday, the head coach was vague when asked what his team needed to do to reach the top of the Big East again.

Improvement in football is an evolutionary process, and Stewart said that weaknesses first need to be exposed before he and the rest of the WVU coaching staff can begin to correct them.

This weekend, he will get his first real chance to see just how much all of the players' work in offseason strength and conditioning and during preseason practice has paid off -- and what areas the Mountaineers are still deficient in.

"We just need to play," Stewart said. "I'm sure everyone in America is saying the same thing. We need to play a game and get a measuring stick."

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