“I didn’t want to leave any bullets in the holster,” said Bill Stewart, the Mountaineers’ head man. “I started that way back when I coached my first game here as the head football coach. That’s just how we’re going to do it. I want to be aggressive.”
That philosophy has been seen far more through the first three games of the 2009 season than it was for most of last year, Stewart’s first at the helm of the West Virginia program and the first for Jeff Mullen as an offensive coordinator.
While that helped WVU roll up 509 yards of total offense against the Tigers this past Saturday, it also may have resulted in at least a few of the team’s six turnovers. Those giveaways proved simply too much to overcome and helped give Auburn a 41-30 victory.
“I thought we had some very fine performances by several people,” Stewart said. “We had a heck of a game plan. I was proud of our coaches and the way we attacked. We did some pretty neat things.”
Many of those “neat things” involve the ever-increasing amount of long passes down the field.
Whether those have been the result of the development of big-play receivers like Alric Arnett and Bradley Starks or the gun-slinging ability of quarterback Jarrett Brown, the deep pass has been seen more often through the first three games of this season at WVU than perhaps at any other point this decade.
“The last two (opposing) defensive coordinators told me after the games, ‘Wow, can you vertically stretch the field,’” Stewart said.
“We want to stretch the field vertically as well as horizontally. We’ve always done a good job horizontally, but we’ve never stretched the field that good vertically. That’s what we’re doing. I’m going to throw the ball deep and I’m going to throw the ball down the middle. It will pay off as we get better doing it.”
Of course, as defenses have to react more to the threat of West Virginia’s passing game, the area between the tackles may empty a bit more and leave a few extra lanes for the team’s shifty running back.
Noel Devine made the Tigers pay for spreading out to cheat closer to potential pass-catching targets by running 71 yards on a play that started between the tackles -- a big play that occurred in a way that was essentially unseen for several years in Morgantown.
“If you spread them out and get the ball to No. 7 (Devine) with lanes and creases, he can hit them,” said the second-year head coach. “I’m so impressed with No. 7’s burst. When the ball touches his hands, watch how fast his feet churn.”
Of course, handing the ball off often is a safer play, which may help cut down on some of the turnovers that dogged WVU in the Auburn loss. Stewart did not blame Brown for trying to make plays that ultimately ended in crucial interceptions.
“He’s a tough guy and a leader,” said Stewart of his quarterback. “He wants to win so bad, and he just tried a little bit too hard in some tough situations.”
ON THE TEAM’S INJURY STATUS:
The head coach characterized the injury that Brown sustained towards the end of the Auburn game as “a contusion -- a scrape, cut-like” on the back of his left (non-throwing) shoulder.
“It’s a bruise-slash-sprain, maybe,” Stewart said. “I guess that’s the best words we can use. That’s what I’ve been told by the medical people. He’s been getting treatment non-stop.”
As for Scooter Berry and Reed Williams, who were each held out of this past weekend’s game, the head coach expressed optimism in the case of the fifth-year senior linebacker, but was a bit more guarded on the status of Berry.
“Reed is making great headway,” he said. “He would have been ready this weekend, probably. Now we’ve got that extra time (before next Thursday’s game against Colorado), so I don’t foresee any problem at all with Reed Williams.”
“Scooter has been showing some good signs of mobility. His range of motion is getting better, so that’s good news.”
ON THE IMPROVEMENTS IN KICKOFF COVERAGE:
A unit which was perhaps the biggest worry for WVU fans after the opening game against Liberty was one of the team’s biggest strengths against AU.
The kickoff coverage unit didn’t allow the Tigers any returns of more than 21 yards for the entirety of the game. Auburn averaged only 17 yards per kickoff return, and unlike the East Carolina game, WVU did not resort to shorter “sky” kicks to limit the potential damage.
AU’s drives that started after Mountaineer kickoffs began at its own 27-yard line, its own 34-yard line, its 26-yard line, its 31-yard line, its 14-yard line and its 24-yard line.
Some of that success may have had to do with the return of Trippe Hale, who had been battling a hip flexor injury. The Mobile, Ala., native felt well enough to return to action in his home state.
“He made things happen,” Stewart said of Hale.
“Three or four years ago, when we first put this in, we were pretty solid. We were first or second in the league (in kickoff return coverage) for a few years. It looks like we’re kind of getting back in that direction. I don’t think we’re there yet.”
“We attacked them. We were twisting, we were firing down there and we were letting it all go. It was neat.”