“I was not pleased (last year) and the players were not pleased,” recalled Bill Stewart of his team’s reaction on the plane ride home from Greenville, N.C. after a surprise blowout loss at the hands of East Carolina.
“I talked to them (after that game) about how you have to do more than just go out and put on the Old Gold and Blue. You have to go out there and block and tackle. I was not very happy after the game last year.”
The potential for history to repeat itself is there once more, as the Pirates return eight starters from a defense that shut down the West Virginia attack last season.
“East Carolina brings some talent,” Stewart said.
“Their defense comes at you, and they play hard. They don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Head coach Skip Holtz also has nine starters back on offense. Leading their attack is Patrick Pinkney, a rare sixth-year senior who was granted the extra year of eligibility by the NCAA after he missed the entire 2005 season with a shoulder injury that led to multiple surgeries and a long recuperation process.
“I really respect Patrick Pinkney,” Stewart said. “It all starts with him. He is tough to get out of rhythm, and their game plan goes through him.”
“He does not turn the ball over. He moves the chains, and he does what he is asked to do. He really knows how to take care of the football. That’s what each and every quarterback needs to do. If you take care of the football, you have a chance to be in contention at the end of the game.”
As far as the Mountaineers themselves, Stewart saw fit to praise the players he and his coaching staff had named “champions” at their respective positions from the season-opening 33-20 win over Liberty.
“The guys that I am most proud of after this game were, on offense, Jarrett Brown and Don Barclay,” said the second-year head coach. “Defensively, J.T. Thomas and Julian Miller were co-players of the game, and I thought both played hard. On special teams -- and I can’t imagine the rush going through his mind on his first kick -- Tyler Bitancurt was awarded.”
While those players were singled out for the providing many of the positives from the team’s first game of 2009, there were wrinkles that Stewart said would need to be ironed out over the course of this week before Saturday afternoon’s 3:30 p.m. start against ECU.
“My observations after watching the film from last weekend are that number one, we played hard,” he said. “Number two, we did not play as smart as I would like for us to have played. We did not play dumb football, we just had a few communication breakdowns. We need to play smarter.”
While it’s often been said that football teams make their biggest strides between their first and second games of the season, the head coach pointed to the fact that his team played an “okay” game in last season’s first contest against Villanova before playing poorly against East Carolina the next week.
“I believe that each and every game, you can get better,” Stewart said. “I’ve heard that most teams improve most between games one and two, but I don’t know if I’d go that far. I think we got better all of last year.”
“I just hope we do it quicker this season.”
Stewart said he had received no updates from the NCAA on the eligibility of freshman defensive back Jonathan Scott.
Scott has been held out of practice since the final days of fall camp as his status is determined by the Clearinghouse, and while the Mountaineers’ head coach said last week that the process had been expedited, there was nothing new to report.
Workers from the Federal Bureau of Investigations will be in the stands at Milan Puskar Stadium for Saturday’s game to hand out child identification packets as part of an ongoing partnership between the agency and the American Football Coaches Association.
Stewart said that over a million packets have been distributed through the partnership since it began in 2002, and WVU will have given out more than 100,000 kits after this Saturday.
“We are very proud of this partnership,” he said.
While the head coach had repeatedly said since Saturday that Wes Lyons could have returned to the lineup in the Liberty game (in which he was kept out of action after slightly pulling a hamstring muscle), he was a bit more guarded in his language surrounding the receiver on Tuesday.
“That is an issue that will be handled by Dave Kerns and our medical staff,” Stewart said. “(Lyons) should play, but if he is not 100 percent or at least close to it, he won’t. That will be left up to the trainers.”