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Chuck Landon: Stewart not joining WVU fans at edge of cliff

Sep. 09, 2008 @ 12:12 AM

Two games.

Just two games.

That's all it took for West Virginia University's 2008 football season to go down the BCS drain.

At least, that's what the Mountaineer nation as well as some WVU media seem to think.

After drinking the 12-0 Kool-Aid predictably offered by some Mountain State sports columnists, WVU fans never expected having to cancel reservations for the FedEx BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 8 in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Not after only two games.

That's why, collectively, Mountaineer fans are not coping well with WVU's 24-3 upset loss to East Carolina last Saturday.

Some are stunned. Some are incensed. Some are snide.

No matter the emotion, first-year WVU head coach Bill Stewart has the same reply.

The sky is not falling.

If dogmatic WVU fans want to ordain Chicken Little an apostle and accept his epistle as gospel, then so be it. But count Stewart out.

He's keeping his faith.

"I'm not overly alarmed," said Stewart during the weekly Big East Conference coaches teleconference Monday. "I'm not 'the sky is falling.' We've just got to play better."

Exactly right.

Yet, one media member actually asked Stewart if team leaders could "pick this up."

Stewart struggled mightily not to explode.

"Oh my God, yes," he said between gritted teeth. "This is the second game of the season ... Jesus, Mary and Joseph. That's what I don't understand right now ... what's going on in our society?

"Before we get to game No. 13, we'd better take care of game one, two, three, four, five and so on."

Ah, therein lies the problem. The Mountaineers didn't take care of game No. 2. They were too busy looking down the schedule. They were more worried about Hurricane Hanna than Hurricane Holtz and his Pirates.

That's because WVU's players thought all they had to do was show up in Greenville, N.C.

They thought wrong.

"As I told our players after the game," said Stewart, "we have to do more than just put on the old gold and blue and go out on the field. You have to play with a passion.

"The lack of passion didn't surprise me. It just frustrated me a little bit. You have to go out and make plays.

"Last year against Marshall, for instance, we were down 13-7 and had not Ryan Mundy saved a punt return it would have been 20-7.

"We told our guys at halftime, 'You'd better wake up, men. You'd better wake up and play. You'd better play hard. You'd better play every play as hard as you can. Don't get stressed. Just go play.

" 'Play hard and let the chips fall where they may.' "

That's what he told the Mountaineers. Now, what would Stewart say to critics and fans that already are jumping off the bandwagon?

"If we've got fans worrying about what kind of motel rooms they're going to get in December or January," he said, "then they've got the wrong agenda.

"They'd better take care of game No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 before they get to game No. 13.

"That's what I'd say to the fans.

"And if they're jumping off the bandwagon, then they jump off. That's OK. I know this team has no quit in it. We're going to fight like heck, do the best we can and hope we go out to Boulder, Colo., and come back with a win.

"That's as simple as I can make it."

Works for me.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 526-2827. E-mail him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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