"Rivalry" Awaits

While Bill Stewart was clearly pleased with the results of his team's 31-0 season-opening win over Coastal Carolina, his focus had turned to Friday night's Friends of Coal Bowl game against Marshall by the time he joined the weekly Big East football coaches' teleconference Monday.

"It was good to get that opening game under our belts," said the third-year West Virginia head coach. "You never really know how your team is going to respond or react until you get against outside competition.

"It was a good early test for us. Coastal Carolina played hard. We played hard. [There was] a lot of good hitting. And it was a good game for us."

The same could not be said about the season-opener for this week's opponent. The Herd was thrashed by No. 2 Ohio State 45-7 in former Mountaineer assistant Doc Holliday's first game in charge of the MU program.

That game was hardly as close as the score indicated. Marshall's lone touchdown came on a return of a blocked field goal, and the home-standing Buckeyes were able to pull their starters out of action fairly early in the second half.

But Stewart said he would not underestimate the ability of Holliday's charges based on that contest.

"I don't ever let one game dictate [what I think about a team]," Stewart said. "They're explosive. They've got players. I love Lee Smith, the big tight end, and [Brian] Anderson, the quarterback.

"They've just got some players. The running backs ran hard, and their defense played hard. You're talking about Ohio State. That's the No. 2 team in the country, or maybe No. 1 soon. So there's a lot of things giving me problems when I see guys go on the road and play hard like that."

Factor in the intangibles -- the fact that the Marshall partisans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium will likely be charged up for what is the biggest game of the Herd's season every year -- and Stewart refused to chalk up the game as an automatic win.

"It's a tough game and an emotional game," he said. "I just think that anything can happen in an in-state rivalry. So until Friday night is over, there are a lot of things that will give me problems."

Indeed, Stewart used the word "rivalry" to describe the game twice during the roughly 13 minutes he was on the line for the conference call, something that many West Virginia fans have taken exception with over the past few years.

But the perception that bad blood exists between Holliday and Stewart after some pitched recruiting battles in the wake of the former Mountaineer assistant coach's departure for Huntington has added a new level of intrigue to the series.

Stewart contended that those thoughts are based only on rumor and innuendo, and not factual.

"Doc and I go back almost 40 years," he said. "I hired him as my associate head coach. I put a lot of trust in him and confidence in him, and he did a great job at West Virginia. He was [great at] recruiting and being a confidant for me. We're tremendous friends. I wish him nothing but the best.

"It's not us guys on the sidelines. We get a little credit -- probably a bit more blame than credit -- but it's the youngsters out there in the arena. That's what this game is all about. This game is not about Bill Stewart and Doc Holliday, and anyone who promotes that kind of sensationalism ought to go get a job in some other kind of work. That's how I feel."

But that didn't mean that Stewart wasn't looking forward the chance to compete with his former recruiting coordinator and fullbacks/tight ends coach.

"I want to beat him," Stewart said. "I want to beat him as good as I can beat him. I think that's what you do in the business. But I wish the Marshall program absolutely nothing but success -- except when they play us."


  • Stewart was asked for his reaction to the news that Mountaineer legend Pat White was cut by the Miami Dolphins before the first regular-season game of what is only his second season in the NFL.

    The WVU head coach, who often called White "the greatest winner in football" during the quarterback's senior season, was clearly disappointed.

    "He's the greatest team player we ever had and a tremendous role model," Stewart said. "I don't understand that business up there, and it's not my place to understand it. I'm just a Patrick White fan."

    Stewart said he had received a phone call from White earlier Monday, but was in a meeting and unable to take it. He planned to call his former quarterback sometime this afternoon to offer encouragement.

    "I'm going to try in any way shape or form to help him any way I can," Stewart said. "I'll make calls or do whatever I need to do to help the young man maybe latch on with someone else. He is a winner. And he makes plays when he gets on the field. So I know there's a lot of ball left in Patrick, and I'm sure he feels the same way.

    "My heart aches for him, because I love him dearly. The people of West Virginia love him dearly and this University loves him dearly for all he did for us. So maybe we can just be there for him as he needs us."

  • Stewart is typically not one to discuss his players' personal lives much, but has been uncommonly candid in talking about the issues that surrounded cornerback Brandon Hogan earlier this year, when the senior found himself running the Milan Puskar Stadium steps seemingly every day during spring practice.

    The head coach again reminded reporters that he personally recruited Hogan out of Osbourn High School in Manassas, Va., and that he felt a need to be especially tough on him as a result.

    "I don't like guys that don't take advantage of the [chance to get an] education," Stewart said. "He's hard-headed like me. We probably would have been great buddies growing up, I'm sure.

    "We're proud of Brandon. He's playing well. He's been a good leader and he's really doing a good job. And so far, he's not missed any classes."

  • While Stewart did try to downplay any talk of being hyper-emotional going into what he called a "rivalry" game, he did admit that players' competitive juices would be flowing come time for Friday night's nationally-televised kickoff.

    But he expressed hope that the hype would not lead to sloppy play from his Mountaineers.

    "We're going to be emotional when we come out of the locker room," Stewart said. "I don't want them walking out of there like altar boys. We're not going to Mass here. But you keep your composure.

    "Are you playing as hard as you can play, doing the very best you can do? And if you do that, I can't ask for anything more than that. Now, are you being smart? We only had three penalties last week. I'd like to see that go to two or one or zero. I just don't want them making the same mistakes. That's all I ask them to do -- play as hard as you can play, be the best team player you can be, and do not repeat mistakes over and over."

  • Noel Devine and Gregg Pugnetti made the Big East honor roll for their performances against Coastal Carolina. Devine ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, which moved into eighth place on the Big East's career rushing chart (3,492 yards). Pugnetti averaged 49.2 yards on six punts with a long punt of 71 yards. He had two punts downed on the one-yard line to help keep the Chanticleers out of the red zone for the game.

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