No Secrets

Bill Stewart

There's no magic to the way West Virginia reversed its recent fortunes and bounced back from consecutive Big East Conference losses with a 37-10 thumping of the two-time defending league champions, according to the team's head coach. That occurred, he said, because the Mountaineers finally got out of their own way.

After turnovers and penalties had plagued WVU in losses to Syracuse and UConn, Bill Stewart's squad largely avoided those issues in Saturday's win over Cincinnati.

The first-team offense committed only one turnover (an interception on a long bomb of a pass that served as a de facto punt) and the only two flags thrown against the Mountaineers were both on the team's strong defense.

"It was physical. We played fast. We played hard. But we really played mentally sharp," Stewart said. "Now, what's that mean? We took care of the ball. We were smart in what we were doing.

"I thought it was a good mental game, as well as physical. We took care of the ball. We didn't have mental [issues] -- formation busts, motion [problems], offsides. I was pleased with that. It was a real sharp game played by the Mountaineers."

With all the dissection of play-calling and personnel and other tactical issues, the more fundamental aspects of the game are sometimes overlooked.

But while he was guarded about saying so, Stewart seemed to think there were very few times his teams have truly been beaten in his three seasons as West Virginia's head coach. Instead, he seemed inclined to think WVU has beaten itself with those sorts of miscues -- a sentiment several of his players expressed in the aftermath of Saturday's win over the Bearcats.

"I want to agree with our players, but I don't want people to think we just sit over here in an arrogant manner and say the only time we lose is when we beat ourselves," Stewart said when asked about that assertion by a reporter.

"I don't want people to say, ‘Oh my gosh, no one ever beats them. They only beat themselves.' That kind of sounds arrogant. But there's validity in what you say."

TENACIOUS D:

After yet another stellar performance, WVU's defense moved even further towards the upper echelons of the national rankings in most major defensive statistics.

The Mountaineers are fourth in the country in total defense (253.33 yards per game allowed), third in scoring defense (13.22 points allowed on average) and fourth in sacks (3.11 per game).

Perhaps most impressively, coordinator Jeff Casteel's charges are the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to have not allowed any opponent to score more than 21 points in a game all season.

It's a tribute to the team's consistency and its ability to defend a variety of styles of attack, and Stewart credited everyone involved with the team for those facts, pointing to the way the offense used the running game to burn time off the clock in the third and fourth quarters, keeping UC's offense off the field.

"They're going to score, now. These are Division I football players," Stewart said. "But to hold people down like we're doing is a real tribute to the players, the coaches and to the scheme and the style and manner in which we play football here.

"[Cincinnati] is an explosive team, and that's why after Noel's touchdown we ran the ball 22 straight times so we could keep their offense off the field and eat up the clock. It all works hand in hand."

EMERGENCE OF ALSTON:

Those 22 consecutive carries Stewart referred to, spanning two drives in the third and fourth quarters, were a means to an end. But in the process of continuing to hand the ball off, the Mountaineers may have found another running back worthy of more carries in the form of Shawne Alston.

The sophomore received the lion's share of the duty on those back-to-back bulldozing drives, and he rivaled the production of typical starter Noel Devine (who saw limited action after fighting a stomach ailment all week long) by game's end, gaining 75 yards on 17 carries.

Stewart noticed Alston during practice through the week and gave the sophomore from Hampton, Va., a chance to get a bit of extra work in Devine's stead. Alston took advantage of his opportunity.

"We ran Shawne through the week and we said, ‘This is another guy that can come out of here and play and do some good stuff,'" Stewart said. "Lo and behold, the opportunity [came]."

"I said, ‘Buddy, let's go with him and knock it up in there.' Competition makes us great, you know? Now Ryan Clarke's got a little competition at tailback."

But Alston could figure more into the team's long-term plans in the backfield -- and not just as a bruising power runner. His emergence could allow receiver Tavon Austin, a speedster in the mold of Devine, to stay out wide instead of moving to running back next year.

Stewart said he had already considered that possibility, but such decisions would be made further down the road. But Alston clearly made an impression on his head coach.

"Shawne certainly brings some more variation and flavor to our offense," the third-year WVU coach said.

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