The bitter pill that was a 20-14 loss to LSU that Stewart and his Mountaineers had to swallow this past weekend gets some extra time to linger on their proverbial tongues as a result of the bye.
So while Stewart was glad that players like running back Noel Devine, offensive lineman Josh Jenkins, linebacker Pat Lazear, defensive lineman Julian Miller and tight end Tyler Urban would get some extra time to recuperate from their assorted issues, he said his team would prefer to play -- even as soon as tomorrow, if it could.
“[The bye] gives guys a chance to work on their schooling,” Stewart said. “It gives guys a chance to work on their wounds, like Noel’s toe, like Pat Lazear and Josh Jenkins. So that helps us. But the guys like to play. The guys want to play.
“I can promise you, it’s going to be a long 11 or 12 more days. These guys want to play football. And we’re going to go out there and get in full pads, practice and get better at the things we do.”
That begins today, as players will go through a longer-than-usual strength and conditioning workout at the Milan Puskar Center before watching film of the LSU loss with the team’s coaches.
That sets the stage for practices in full pads, scheduled for both Wednesday and Thursday.
Stewart offered updates on a few of the players dealing with various bumps, bruises and other issues this week.
Devine’s injury is characterized as a bruised bone in the big toe of one of his feet. The senior was treated for the injury Sunday morning when the team arrived back in Morgantown, was treated twice more on Monday and was scheduled to get additional treatment on a daily basis.
“They’ve got an orthotic to fit that to help take some of the pressure off of it,” Stewart said. “It’s a pretty bad bruise. He came back in [the game] and ran tough, man. He was really hurting.”
Stewart expected Devine to go through a normal practice schedule this week and also expects the star running back to be healthy in time for the team’s game against UNLV on Oct. 9.
“I know by that time he’ll be fine,” Stewart said.
As for Jenkins, the starting left guard who had arthroscopic surgery on one of his knees last week, Stewart expressed optimism that he might be ready to play by the UNLV game as well. But he said the staff would use caution and make sure not to rush Jenkins’ return with Big East Conference play looming in the days after West Virginia’s next contest.
“I really want him to be ready for that South Florida game,” said the Mountaineers’ third-year coach, referring to an Oct. 14 night game that opens league play.
“We’d like to have all our starters back for that one, like a Josh Jenkins, like a Tyler Urban and Patrick Lazear, those kinds of young men. But they’ll play [next week]. How much they’ll play against UNLV, I’m just not quite sure.”
As for Lazear, who saw his first action against LSU after sitting out the first three games of the season with a severe bone bruise in one leg sustained late in preseason practice, Stewart said he was impressed by the senior’s ability to get back in the flow of the game quickly.
“I was real pleased with the way Pat Lazear played,” he said. “I thought he played hard. He’s not in shape. But he will be more and more able to compete and help us in some spots.”
While Stewart had not yet watched the film with his WVU players, he and the rest of the coaching staff had dissected the action by the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around, and he shared his thoughts on some of the bigger moments in the game.
The two field goals Tyler Bitancurt missed Saturday night (one of which was blocked) were both low kicks, according to the head coach. But that didn’t necessarily mean the sophomore kicker was in danger of losing his job, even after what has been a somewhat rocky start to the season.
“They compete every day,” Stewart said. “But I’m going to continue to work with and watch Tyler Bitancurt. Right now, he’s still the incumbent. But he’ll have to work in practices and compete just like anybody else.
“He’s made so many big ones in the past it doesn’t alarm me. Anytime you miss one, it worries you, but I don’t see a pattern at this point.”
On Monday morning’s Big East Conference coaches’ teleconference, Stewart said the 60-yard punt return for a touchdown scored by LSU’s Patrick Peterson in the second quarter was largely the result a West Virginia player not being in his proper coverage lane.
But the head coach gave Peterson credit on Tuesday, saying his first long punt return (which came on Gregg Pugnetti’s first kick of the game) was all about the exceptional speed and skill of the Tigers’ star cornerback.
“The first punt, that guy’s just faster than our guys,” Stewart said. “We had a guy with outside leverage and he just ran around him like [former WVU running back] Stevie Slaton used to run around people. I don’t know anybody as fast as him. Our fastest guy had leverage on him, and [Peterson] ran around him.”
And while it wasn’t quarterback Geno Smith’s finest hour, the head coach credited the true sophomore for some heady play and for continuing to step up in the pocket and deliver the ball as best he could, even in spite of the overwhelming pressure LSU defenders generated on seemingly every snap.
“I’ll tell you, what I learned about him is how tough he is, how he hung in there,” Stewart said of Smith. “He got hit in the mouth several times. ,P>
“I really thought he did a heck of a job. He played as hard as he could play in a tough venue. And we had a chance to win it at the end. That’s all you can ask your quarterback to do. And again, it was his fourth start. So I’m really pleased with where he is.”
All of the film study made reasons for some mistakes come to light, but it didn’t make the loss any easier for Stewart to take.
“I still have a hard time letting that one go,” he said. “But it’s time to let it go.”