The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 2, 2010

Stewart evaluating whole team

MORGANTOWN — Swearing it was a move not driven by desperation but, instead, just what normally would be done on this off-week, beleaguered West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart has begun conducting a self-evaluation of his team from top to bottom.

After looking at the offense over the last three weeks and “grilling” offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, Stewart reached probably the same conclusions the public has reached without the aid of game films.

There are problems that must be fixed.

Stewart said the areas of most concern are “ball security”, mistakes in formations and motion that lead to costly penalties, and pass protection.

And while Stewart didn’t list it among the top three areas, he left little doubt that the offensive line has not played as well as he would like.

Defensively, after watching film but not yet grilling defensive coordinator Jeff Castille, the architect of the nation’s fourth-ranked defense, Stewart decided there were areas that could be improved including the inability to strip the ball loose and to make one-on-one tackles in crucial situations.

In some ways, Stewart was far more lenient on the offense that has landed his team in last place in the Big East, noting that last year the team gained 400 total yards on only four occasions and this year it has gained 400 total yards on five occasions.

However, those statistics are highly misleading, for they two of the 400-yard games came against dreadful opponents in Coastal Carolina and UNLV. If you eliminate those two games, WVU has gained just 2,111 yards, just 112 more than the opposition, and is averaging only 352 yards a game.

Yards are not a very reliable measuring stick for an offense anyway. They are like pennies, in that you can have a whole lot of them but they aren’t worth very much.

Points are what count and there WVU is a pauper.

“I do know scoring we’re like fourth in the league,” Stewart said, trying to offer some positive defense. “Pitt is averaging about 29 points and first. We average 24.5. That’s 4 and a half points, not even a touchdown. Should we be in the 30s? Sure wish we were.”

Again, if you take the 80 points scored in the Coastal Carolina and UNLV games away, WVU has scored only 116 points in the other six games, an average of 19.7 per game, and just 17 more points than its top-ranked defense has given up.

Stewart, whose team is off this week before playing at home against Cincinnati on Nov. 13, offered his views on his findings.

“I’m not pleased with the fumbles,” he said, having lost four of seven fumbles in losing in overtime to Connecticut, the final fumble coming from fullback Ryan Clarke on the UConn 1 in overtime. “When you get in the red zone, you have to score.”

To remedy this, Stewart plans to do a lot of ball security drills.

“We will do intense turnover circuit drills,” he said, a “turnover circuit” being like running a gauntlet with obstacles aimed at trying to knock the football loose.

Still, he remains mystified why his team is fumbling and not causing fumbles.

“We have to work on getting turnovers. We haven’t stripped the ball. Why? Why aren’t we having the ball pop out? Why do they strip it from us and we don’t? Why did we not rip the ball out of their ball-carriers hands like they did to us? I’m going to lay the law down and we’re gonna work on getting turnovers,” he said.

The motion penalties and fouls for not lining up correctly in the formation also have gotten under Stewart’s skin.

“We have young guys and they make mistakes, but eight weeks in they should have it,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job coaching it.”

The protection problems are sometimes well disguised, for there have been only 11 sacks.

“Eleven sacks is not bad but there have been how many hurries,” he said. “I want to move the pocket more. Jeff Braun is a young lineman and he’s playing well, but I want to help him some. There might be more quarterback draws.”

The fact is the line has not blocked well for the running game, either, and that might be main reason the team hasn’t put the ball into the end zone when in the red zone.

“I think the offensive line has to block better. I think they have played hard. That being said, that’s not to say offensive line has lost everything for us. They have to do a better job. We have a right tackle that’s a good boy and he’s playing tough.

“We’ve had five outings of over 400 yards, yet it seems we can’t spring Noel. When we do spring him, he has to beat that safety one-on-one. If we get them all blocked but one, he has to score.”

Stewart says that while he is offering criticism of the job being done by some players, he is not pointing fingers at anyone.

“Let me assure you, I am not a finger pointer,” he said. “I’m not blaming these players. But if this person is supposed to make a block, make it to the best of your ability. If you’re supposed to hang on to a ball, hang on to it to the best of your ability. If you’re supposed to be somewhere in a formation in motion, do the best you can. If you’re supposed to cover a deep third, cover a deep third.

“Now, if someone thinks I’ve been pointing my finger, that’s wrong. My players will never tell you that.”

Stewart said he also went over the play calling with Mullen.

“There’s never a play call that’s 100 percent right. Those calls you think should work, sometimes playmakers make plays. That can happen. And when a play works, is that a great call or just a great play?

I looked at every play. I asked are we asking these guys what they can physically do? For the most part the answer is yes.”

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

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