Evaluating The Opener

In the moments after his team had knocked off Coastal Carolina 31-0 in the season-opener on Saturday, WVU head coach Bill Stewart seemed to think things had gone relatively well. Nothing he saw upon reviewing the game film Sunday changed that opinion.

"We've not seen much difference in what we thought after the ballgame in my comments from last night," said the third-year head coach.

"I thought the same guys played well. I was really pleased again with our defense and pretty pleased with the special teams. I liked the coverage, both punt and kickoff. I thought our offense made some big plays, but they had some plays that we better get corrected quickly."

Stewart had hoped to take an aggressive approach with his team's offense on Saturday to show the players that he had confidence in their ability to get things done.

That was one reason he eschewed the conventional choice of kicking a field goal and instead went for a fourth-and-goal play from the 4-yard line on the first possession of the game. He was rewarded when quarterback Geno Smith fired a touchdown pass to J.D. Woods.

"I want Geno to know I have all the confidence in the world in him and the other 10 players out there with him," Stewart said. "I wanted that young man to know he's our guy, we're going with him and I wanted to showcase him right from the get go. And that's why we went with the fast pace.

"I wanted people to know here it is, this is what we're going to do. That was just the thought process. Right or wrong, good, bad or indifferent, that was my thinking."

While the offense sputtered a bit in the first half, it ultimately got on track later. Combined with solid efforts from the team's defense, which earned the program's first shutout since 2005, and the specialists, Stewart seemed mostly pleased.

And with that success in mind, most things will remain unchanged with a game against Marshall only five days away, "unless something dramatic happens in practice," according to the head coach.

Stewart said fifth-year senior Gregg Pugnetti would continue to handle the punting duties and that Alabama transfer Corey Smith would continue to kick off after both had impressive performances against Coastal Carolina. Tyler Bitancurt will continue to handle field goal duties.

"I hope it continues to work as well as it did," said Stewart. "Right now I'm pleased with what we've decided. I think each player has earned the spurs to do that, and we have a lot of talent. Right now, we're just going to continue to do what we're doing and master those three areas."

That pattern was to also continue with the battle on the right side of the line, as the head coach indicated Eric Jobe will again start at right guard and Jeff Braun will get the nod at right tackle, despite an occasionally shaky performance on that side. Cole Bowers will continue to rotate in to spell those players.

"It's going to be the same for awhile because I want to make sure to keep guys fresh," Stewart said. "These guys work so hard. I think you can play three guards, three tackles and two centers. I've always thought that way and that's what I've always done. I don't plan on changing anything."

As for game preparations, Stewart said that process started immediately with the Mountaineer players because of the short week that was ahead of them.

"We'll meet with the players today to show them the corrections, the good and bad [from film of Saturday's game], and we'll go out and get ready for a fast practice," the head coach said. "We'll get ready in preparation for Marshall every day this week because it's a Friday game, and we'll be off next Saturday."

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • Early indications are that the Mountaineers came out of the opener relatively injury-free. Junior safety Robert Sands is "fine" according to Stewart, who seemed to indicate tight end Tyler Urban had avoided any major issues as well.

    "I don't know how long it's going to be [with Urban out], if there's any length to it at all," said Stewart. "We're just going to have to watch him this week and see, because we have a long season to go."

    "You always get bumps and bruises ... but there was nothing really major and I'm not mad about that. It was a hard hitting football game."

  • While some have expressed concern that the familiarity Marshall head coach Doc Holliday and running backs coach JaJuan Seider have with the WVU system after their time in Morgantown could come back to haunt the Mountaineers this weekend, Stewart seemed unconcerned.

    "We huddle up now. We can use wrist bands, and we've changed signals," the head coach explained. "To me, I think it would be an absolute waste of time for someone to be on the other sideline trying to steal signals. That's just me. I just want to play ball. Find the scheme, try to attack the scheme and go from there.

    "I don't know what the opponent is going to do this week, or any of our opponents, to be honest. But I'm sure that might be in some people's thought process."

  • There has been much discussion about the future of the "Friends of Coal Bowl" series, especially since West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, who helped broker the current arrangement, hopes to leave his current post for the U.S. Senate after a special election later this year.

    Stewart did not offer his opinion on whether the series should be extended.

    "Right now, we have a three-game contract left and then after that I'm sure it will be discussed by people above me," he said. "We're going to fulfill what the agreement calls for, and that's we play this year and two more. I don't mean to be evasive, but that's going to be handled by other people before it gets down to my expertise."


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