MORGANTOWN - Bill Stewart said his West Virginia University football players will spend this open week correcting the recent problems that have caused the team to drop two straight games and to drop into the cellar of the Big East Conference.
The Mountaineers, 5-3 overall but 1-2 in the conference, dropped their second straight conference game last Friday at Connecticut, the first time WVU has lost two consecutive Big East games since 2004. The game featured seven Mountaineer fumbles, four of which were lost to the Huskies. That included one in overtime when it appeared running back Ryan Clarke had a clear path to the end zone.
"In no way, shape or form was that loss Ryan Clarke's fault," Stewart said Monday. "I'm not a finger pointer. But if you're supposed to be making a block, do it to the best of your ability. If you're supposed to hang on to the ball, hang on to it to the best of your ability. If someone thinks I'm pointing my fingers at these players, they're wrong. I'm only pointing a thumb at the guy right here that's me."
Stewart is under fire from the student newspaper, which ran two editorials in Monday's edition asking him to step aside or for him to be removed from his duties as the head coach of the Mountaineers.
"I haven't noticed it, so it must not bother me," he said. "I've got pretty thick skin."
Stewart said the two weeks leading up to the Nov. 13 home game with Cincinnati will be one of evaluation, of himself, his staff, the program and the players.
No one, he said, will be free from the scrutiny.
"We're going to get on the same page of music," he said.
WVU has a losing record after three games in the Big East for the first time since 2001, the debut year of former coach Rich Rodriguez. The Mountaineers finished 3-8 overall and 1-6 in the conference, and it was the last season in which WVU failed to go to a bowl game.
"It's new and different territory for us," defensive lineman Chris Neild said after the UConn loss. "It's an unpleasant feeling. This has never happened to us."
The athletic department did announce Monday that the Cincinnati game will kick off at noon and will be televised by the Big East Conference Network.