The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 2, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - WVU has to focus on Rutgers

MORGANTOWN — Perhaps you feel like you’ve been there before this week.

Bill Stewart does.

See, there is this one memory that no West Virginia University player, fan or coach can forget, and the setup this season is so similar.

“You don’t have to go back very far, the 2007 game against Pitt,” Stewart said.

West Virginia was playing as a big favorite in that game, just as they will this year against a Rutgers team that has lost four in a row and has not been very good in doing it.

All that was riding on that game three years ago was everything … which in this case was a trip to the national championship game.

It was the game that was going to make Rich Rodriguez a hero, that was going put Patrick White, Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt and Darius Reynaud in the national spotlight.

It was a game where Pitt was every bit as messed up as Rutgers is this year, a game the Mountaineers could not lose. WVU had scored 45 on Pitt in each of the two previous years, had won four of the last five games against them.

This time they lost.

“I don’t have to remind the players,” Stewart said.

No, the images are still fresh.

Rich Rodriguez is standing there, the look on his face one of utter defeat, the veins in his neck not yet having subsided from his moments with his players.

“It was just a nightmare,” he said. “The whole thing was a nightmare.”

What could go wrong did go wrong. Pat White injured his thumb and had to go out, coming back in the fourth quarter, but there was no rally.

“I just wanted to help the team as much as I can,” White said. “It was killing me sitting on the sidelines.”

The final score was 13-9, as improbable a score as was the outcome itself.

This year the national championship game is not at stake, but a potential BCS bowl game is, which goes with the Big East championship.

A win and very possible Connecticut loss at South Florida would make WVU champions of the Big East, the only way the Mountaineers can take down the title and avoid at trip to Orlando, Fla., for a bowl that is named Champs but is, in reality, for losers.

That is why, when the word came out that TCU joining the Big East, Stewart didn’t even know about it, so engrossed in film study was he.

“I’m intensely spending every waking minute trying to figure out ways to beat Rutgers,” he said.

He knows from experience that this isn’t a walkover, that a team with nothing to play for has nothing to lose.

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano figures to turn everything loose on WVU in an effort to salvage something from a terrible season to carry over to next year.

“I’m looking for our football team to have a great week of preparation for playing in a great college environment,” he said during Monday’s Big East phone call. “This has not been the year we expected or hoped for. In life that happens, but I’m a big believer it’s not what happens but how you react to it that matters.

“At Rutgers, our philosophy has always been that we play 12 one-game seasons. We have a chance to be 1-0.”

Schiano is a proud man. He came in and took over a program at Rutgers that was as low as it could get, losing once in his first year to Rodriguez by 80-7. It took time and sweat and patience, but he turned the program around until this season.

“We have built tradition here,” he said. “We built something that will last. We had a rough year. We will give it our best, although our best may not be good enough against a good West Virginia football team. On paper, we do not match up well.”

But, Schiano vowed, that is a temporary condition.

“We will,” he said, “get this going in the right direction.”

Stewart believes him, and that is why he is approaching this game as if it were a championship game.

When you think of it … it is.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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