West Virginia Notebook: Stewart hoping for 'wake-up call'

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart generally utilizes much of the time at his Tuesday news conferences to focus forward; sometimes even making it known he would appreciate the line of questioning steered toward the upcoming opponent, rather than West Virginia's most recent game.

Tuesday, though, Stewart spent a lot of time speaking about West Virginia's 19-14 loss against Syracuse that pushed his team to 5-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big East Conference -- quite a bit more time than he did about the Mountaineers' Friday game at Connecticut (3-4, 0-2).

"We were certainly on the disappointing end of that," Stewart said. "I surely hope that this serves as a wake-up call to our football program and we can get back on track.

"I know the Mountaineers' hearts and spirits are bruised."

Stewart also spoke of how sophomore quarterback Geno Smith has been dealing with the loss. Smith, who finished 20 of 37 with three interceptions against Syracuse, drove the offense inside the Orange 25 with less than a minute left. From there, he took a sack on second down, missed an open Jock Sanders, who was sailing clear down the field for a would-be touchdown on third down, and then took a sack on fourth down to end the Mountaineers' chances.

"I saw a guy who had a hard outing trying to fight and do the best he could," Stewart said. "When you are not clicking at that position, you don't see a lot of things and some things you see might be illusions."

Tight-end situation

Junior tight end Tyler Urban came into the season as the starter and started the season-opening victory against Coastal Carolina. In that contest, Urban (Norwin High School) injured his leg and missed the Marshall and Maryland games.

That opened the door for senior tight end Will Johnson to grab the starting spot, and it is a spot that Johnson, who caught a late touchdown against Marshall, has not relinquished.

Urban played just one play against LSU Sept. 25.

Since then, Urban has been unable to regain his starting spot as Johnson has pulled in six passes for 67 yards. Urban, on the other hand, hasn't caught a pass since the opener.

"They both play," Stewart said. "Will is playing pretty well. That's not to say Tyler isn't, but, when there is an injury and you go down and you don't play for a couple games and someone steps in and they do pretty well, I don't see much reason to change it."

It was curious, however, that Urban did not play more against Syracuse than Johnson did. The Orange hurt West Virginia with its pass rush, but, often times, Johnson (6 feet 2, 238 pounds) was in the game and not Urban, 6-5, 249.

A widely held notion is that Urban is a much better blocker while Johnson is a more able pass-catcher.

"I think both guys are blocking well," Stewart said. "They are both good football players, and I think competition is very healthy and, as I see now, both will play."

Voice from the past

Current Michigan -- and former West Virginia coach -- Rich Rodriguez was a guest on 93.7 The Fan Tuesday and was asked a three-part question about the Mountaineers.

Do you follow what they've done, do you think back to Dec. 1, 2007 at all [when West Virginia lost to Pitt] and have you reconciled enough with the people there that you are able to go back to your hometown on occasion?

"I follow them a little bit," Rodriguez said. "But not as much as, obviously, I would like because of our own schedule and our own agenda here."

As for the Pitt game?

"I don't try to think back to that December game," Rodriguez said. "Because that was such a bad memory, and you want to kind of move on."

In terms of that reconciliation?

"I have been back a few times," Rodriguez said. "I think there were a lot of hard feelings when I left, and there's probably a lot of things that were written or said that maybe weren't true from both ends, and that's unfortunate. Someday, though, I hope everyone will know the reasons why and just kind of move forward."

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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