Bill Stewart has spent more than nine months as the head coach at West Virginia, but didn’t sign a contract until last week. Shortly before inking his deal, the Mountaineers showed Stewart how much work he has in front of him.
Coming off their worst offensive performance in nearly seven years, the No. 21 Mountaineers try to bounce back Thursday night when they travel to Boulder for their first-ever meeting with Colorado.
Stewart led West Virginia (1-1) to a Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma on Jan. 2, and a day later was hired as the successor to Rich Rodriguez, who had bolted for Michigan in December. Stewart took over a Mountaineers team that would lose running back Steve Slaton to the NFL, but had quarterback Pat White and speedy tailback Noel Devine among eight returning starters on an offense that scored nearly 40 points per game last season.
That unit looked sharp enough in West Virginia’s opener, as White threw a career-high five touchdown passes in a 48-21 rout of Villanova on Aug. 30. A week later, however, the Mountaineers sputtered badly on offense, losing two fumbles and getting just 72 yards passing from White in a 24-3 loss at East Carolina on Sept. 6.
West Virginia was held without a touchdown for the first time since a 45-3 loss to then-No. 1 Miami on Oct. 25, 2001.
“(To) the naysayers out there that want to ruin a guy’s season after the first or second game, I’m not going to get all down in the dumps,” Stewart said. “You can’t just put the old gold and blue on. … You’ve got to play in the old gold and blue.”
Stewart spent nine months and two games on the job before signing a contract, an issue that was finally settled Friday when the 55-year-old coach put his name on a six-year deal.
Now, Stewart has to figure out how to fix what went wrong against East Carolina. White and Devine each ran for 90 yards, but they should face a stiffer test against Colorado’s defensive front. The Buffaloes (2-0) have allowed 59 yards per game on the ground over their first two contests.
“They are a tough group, but we’re pretty tough and big also,” Stewart said. “Last week, I didn’t think some of our linemen played up to their ability. This game will be a good battle for our offensive linemen and it will be a big challenge.”
Colorado defeated Colorado State 38-17 in its opener, and figured to have an easy time against Football Championship Subdivision member Eastern Washington on Sept. 6. The Eagles, though, led 24-17 with less than four minutes to play before Cody Hawkins’ third touchdown pass tied the score.
Two plays later, Cha’pelle Brown picked off a pass from Eastern Washington’s Matt Nichols and returned it 27 yards for a TD, and Colorado held on to win 31-24.
“We have a lot to learn,” coach Dan Hawkins said. “We just have to keep pumping the pump and get better, and I think we will.”
Colorado has relied mainly on Hawkins’ arm to move the ball so far, as he’s completed 71.6 percent of his passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns. The ground game, however, has struggled to get going, as the Buffaloes are averaging 3.5 yards per carry - 90th in the nation.
Highly touted freshman Darrell Scott has gotten the bulk of the carries, and he’s gained 104 yards on 24 rushes along with one touchdown in his first two college games. Scott, one of the nation’s top running back recruits, also had three catches for 33 yards against Eastern Washington.
“He’s very powerful and elusive when he gets in the open field, and it’s tough to bring him down one guy at a time,” Dan Hawkins said.
West Virginia is 10-8 against Big 12 opponents.