The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 25, 2010

Out of focus

Stewart: Team’s mental approach led to loss

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University football coach Bill Stewart has a request for his players as they prepare for a Friday night game in Connecticut, a game that has all the same trappings as this week’s upset loss to Syracuse at home.

What he’d like is for his team to use their heads for something other than to put their helmets on.

Stewart could handle the physical errors in the 19-14 loss. Even five sacks and three interceptions, they may not be acceptable but that sometimes happens when you have a sophomore quarterback like Geno Smith.

That, he believes, isn’t what beat his team.

“I think we were beaten between the ears from the shoulders up,” he said.

It’s an old tune that Stewart is singing, but one that usually is correct.

“I say this every time we have a loss to what experts say is a lesser team,” he said, speaking passionately. “When you do not — I repeat — when you do not respect all — each and every opponent — and fear none, you are going to get sidetracked.

“I don’t know why the upsets happen or why losses like this occur, but it’s mental. I’m not going to chastise or rip these players, because they had a great week. They worked hard, but if you do not get it right between the ears and take each opponent seriously, you’re going to have trouble.”

Stewart was worried about this all week. Earlier in the week he referred back to last year’s game, a rather easy victory by West Virginia but one that carried a late warning.

“After our 34th point up at the Carrier Dome last year, Syracuse knocked about half our line into the kicker and holder (on the PAT),” Stewart said. “After the game, I went up to Coach (Doug) Marrone and said, ‘Doug, you're on the right track. Don’t change a thing, whatever you’re doing.’

“They didn't back up an inch. They took the fight to us ... These guys have my attention and they have a good football team. Syracuse is knocking on the door. They’re on their way back. I just hope they don’t get back this Saturday.”

The problem was, as Stewart saw it, they didn’t have his players’ attention.

“I don’t know why young people can’t look at a USF film (against Syracuse) and say ‘wow’, then turn around and look at the Pitt and Syracuse film and not figure out that if they don’t play, the exact same thing will happen to us, or we can do what Pitt did to them. They were reminded all week by their coaches, and that’s where leadership and maturity comes into being,” Stewart said.

“I am not pleased in the mental approach in the Mountaineers’ football game after cautiously being reminded over and over by the coaching staff. I’ve coached longer than these players have been on this earth, so they better trust their old coaching staff. They worked very hard, but I know they were not nearly as impressed with Syracuse before the game as they were after the game.”

Now Stewart has to rebuild his team before facing a UConn team that is without its quarterback and coming off a 26-0 loss to Louisville.

“I’m not in any kind of panic mode whatsoever. We will have to just get better, stay the course and continue to work,” Stewart said.

And, he maintains is not worried about his team bouncing back.

“They’ll come back. They’re Mountaineers,” Stewart said.

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

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