Audaciousness Ahead

Bill Stewart

A week after performing what he called a "total self-evaluation of the program," WVU head coach Bill Stewart was coy about the results of that process, lest upcoming opponents (like Saturday's foe, Cincinnati) know what the Mountaineers might change offensively. But pressed for details, Stewart conceded he expects his team to be "more aggressive" against the Bearcats.

"We've added some wrinkles," Stewart said at his Tuesday afternoon press conference.

"You'll see more ... I think I want to be a little bit more aggressive. I'll just say that to you. I'm going to be a little bit more aggressive in some play-calling ... we've seen some things that we can do a little bit better."

While the third-year West Virginia coach, pressed into that mid-season evaluation after his team suffered back-to-back Big East Conference losses (the first time that has happened at WVU since 2004), offered that bit of information, he wouldn't go any further for reasons of competitive secrecy.

"I can tell you that we did an evaluation, but I'll tell you [the results] after the season," said Stewart, whose team sits a 5-3 overall and 1-2 in Big East play after its second and final bye week of the regular season.

While the Mountaineers' offense has been the focus of the majority of scrutiny from Stewart, his coaching staff and WVU fans in recent weeks, it is the team's highly-rated defense that will face its most stern test of the season so far when UC comes to Morgantown for Saturday's showdown at high noon.

Cincinnati (3-5, 1-2) ranks at the top of the Big East in total offense (425.25 yards per game) and is second in the league in scoring offense (27.38 points per game).

"It's going to be a real challenge," Stewart said. "Our defense hasn't seen an offense like this."

While the Bearcats have sputtered of late, coming into Saturday's game smarting from back-to-back losses like West Virginia, they will be regaining a critical component to their offense in the form of quarterback Zach Collaros.

Collaros did not play in UC's embarrassing 31-7 loss to Syracuse on Homecoming at Nippert Stadium two Saturdays ago, but head coach Butch Jones said Monday on the Big East coaches' conference call that his quarterback's knee had "improved immensely through last week's bye.

The Steubenville, Ohio, native has Stewart's respect after splitting reps with Tony Pike during his team's 24-21 win at Nippert Stadium last year. Collaros completed 17 of his 24 passes that night for 205 yards and added 44 yards rushing on 10 carries.

"He'll make you sick," Stewart said.

"[He is a] daring little player. He just makes plays."

But it's the junior quarterback's competitive nature that truly impresses the WVU head coach most. Cincinnati staffers had to take Collaros' helmet and hide it from him during the latter stages of his team's loss to Syracuse, lest he try to trot out on the field and play with an injured knee.

"I was getting ready for this game and saw that and I said, ‘Good gracious,'" Stewart said. "I know the guy's a competitor."

BRIEFLY:

  • Stewart and the rest of the WVU coaching staff will be wearing camouflage hats emblazoned with the school's "Flying WV" logo on the sidelines for Saturday's game in honor of Veterans' Day, which is this Thursday.

    "I think that's a nice thing to do to honor our vets, and I'm excited about that," Stewart said, displaying one of the baseball-style caps on the podium in front of him during his press conference.

  • As a brief part of his opening statement, Stewart implored Mountaineer fans to turn out for Saturday's noon kickoff at Milan Puskar Stadium.

    "I hope our crowd is here in full force, because we're surely going to need you," he said. "Hopefully the home field advantage will prove advantageous this time around."

    If West Virginia is to have a raucous crowd in attendance, it will need the school's students begin to show a bit more enthusiasm than they have thus far for the game.

    As of Tuesday morning, approximately 4,400 student tickets remained unclaimed for the Cincinnati game according to a message to students on WVU's Mountaineer Information Xpress web site. There are approximately 11,000 student seats for home football games.

  • While a win against the Bearcats would be important for immediate reasons, it also may have more long-lasting ramifications than some may realize.

    More and more, Ohio has become an important recruiting area for the Mountaineers, who must battle Big East rival Cincinnati for several of the better players in the Buckeye State.

    Stewart signed four Ohio natives in the 2009 recruiting class (Darwin Cook, Ryan Spiker, Branko Busick and Chris Snook), two more in the 2010 class (Jewone Snow and Mike Dorsey) and already has two more verbal commitments from that bordering state for the 2011 class (Shaquille Petteway and Kyle Rose).

    "We may have a youngster or two [visiting WVU] this weekend from up there," Stewart noted.

    "This is a very big game in terms of recruiting the state of Ohio. You know, let's face it ... Ohio State gets there and they pick the first of the litter, and then we fight the Big Ten and [whoever] else, Cincinnati now, for everybody else."

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