Stewart was atypically terse with his answers and dodged some questions from media members entirely in his postgame press conference Saturday night in the minutes immediately following the Mountaineers’ first loss of the young season.
That pattern continued on the Big East Conference football coaches’ teleconference late Monday morning.
Asked if LSU’s Tiger Stadium, where 92,575 onlookers made for the second-largest crowd to ever watch WVU play a football game, was the toughest environment he had ever seen, Stewart’s reply was simply, “No.”
Asked if he and his coaching staff had considered moving slot receiver Jock Sanders (who had taken reps at running back in previous seasons) or sophomore wideout Tavon Austin (who Stewart has said in recent weeks will be the starter at running back next season) into the backfield when Noel Devine was held out of action with a toe injury, the third-year head coach would only say, “Absolutely not.”
Asked if he felt his team could take away more positives than negatives from the close-fought contest, in which his West Virginia team had the ball four times with a chance to take the lead in the second half, all Stewart initially offered was, “Yes.”
He ultimately elaborated on the final point, recalling that his team had the ball with a first-and-10 at LSU’s 30-yard line with about 12:00 to go and a chance to take the lead.
“I’m sure there have been a bunch of teams that went in that stadium before, and there will be a whole bunch after that would like to have the same opportunity,” Stewart said. “We played them toe-to-toe. I’m proud of my guys. I back my guys. We just didn’t finish the job.”
“We went into a tough venue and played, I think they’re 10th in the country by the coaches and 12th by the AP, and we got beat by six points,” he added later. “People are trying to finger-point and tear this team apart. What I’m saying is there was some positive things to come out of that. If no one saw that, then that’s their opinion. I have an opinion also. Mine seems to count more than most.”
The head coach updated the media on the status of Devine, who was sidelined for part of the game and later came back to play despite his injury, which was initially described as a bruised toe.
“He’s getting two treatments today,” Stewart said. “He’s as sore as can be. Hopefully that will be able to heal up in a couple weeks.”
With no game this Saturday, that seems to indicate Stewart is hopeful the senior running back could be healthy in time for a home game with UNLV on Oct. 9.
West Virginia (3-1) fell out of the national rankings following its setback in Baton Rouge. That in itself was not particularly stunning, as Stewart’s squad was only No. 22 in the AP poll and No. 21 in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
But it made for another tough moment for the Big East Conference, which still only has one win this season against a team from any other league that has an automatic BCS bowl bid (the Mountaineers’ victory over Maryland).
WVU’s loss was just the last in another tough week for the league.
Preseason favorite Pittsburgh was throttled 31-3 by No. 16 Miami in a Thursday night nationally-televised contest. Rutgers lost 17-13 to a depleted North Carolina squad. Cincinnati looked better, but the two-time defending Big East champions still fell to 1-3 with a 31-29 loss to No. 8 Oklahoma.
Connecticut, South Florida and Syracuse came up with victories, but all did so against lower-level opposition (Buffalo, Western Kentucky and Colgate, respectively).
“I’m tired of answering that,” Stewart said, when asked about the league’s struggles. “It’s a broken record.
“We’ll wait and see what happens at the end of the year.”
Asked what allowed LSU’s all-everything cornerback and kick returner Patrick Peterson to break loose for the 60-yard punt return touchdown that put his team down 17-0 early in the second quarter, Stewart pinned the blame on the coverage unit and not on what appeared to be a relatively low line-drive kick from Gregg Pugnetti.
“We had a guy not in his lane,” said Stewart, who fell to 1-3 against ranked teams as WVU’s head coach. “We tried the kick the ball to the numbers, and that one went to the hash. It wasn’t a bad punt, we just had a guy get knocked out of his lane that wasn’t there.”