WVU’s Stewart looks to go 2-0 in bowl games

Published 6:17 pm Saturday, December 27, 2008

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — West Virginia had just dropped its second straight game, a heartbreaking overtime defeat at Colorado, and coach Bill Stewart’s critics were howling as he gathered the team.
The Mountaineers won their next five games, before a 2-2 finish revived Stewart’s detractors. The late-season struggles dropped West Virginia (8-4) into Saturday’s Meineke Bowl against North Carolina (8-4), and the questions remain about whether the longtime assistant was the right choice to replace Rich Rodriguez in Morgantown.
The affable Stewart sat at a pizza joint in downtown Charlotte Friday, telling old coaching stories, heaping praise on senior quarterback Pat White a day before his final game, and insisting that he’s working tirelessly to make it work with the Mountaineers.
Stewart acknowledged that as he prepared for West Virginia’s bowl game a year ago, he wasn’t thinking about being the permanent replacement for Michigan-bound Rodriguez.
But then the Mountaineers upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. West Virginia removed the interim tag the next day, even though the 56-year-old Stewart’s head coaching experience consisted of going 8-25 in three seasons at VMI.
Less than a year later, Stewart will coach the Mountaineers in their seventh straight bowl appearance in what will mark the end of an era. The dynamic White, the NCAA’s all-time leader in rushing for quarterbacks with 4,425 yards, will try to finish 4-0 in bowls.
There are no questions about qualifications on the North Carolina sideline. Butch Davis and his thick, impressive resume from college and the NFL engineered one of the nation’s biggest turnarounds. After going 4-8 in his first season in 2007, North Carolina started 7-2 before a rash of injuries led to losses in two of its last three games to end any BCS bowl hopes.
Quarterback T.J. Yates is back after missing five games with a broken ankle, and may get his last chance to throw to Atlantic Coast Conference receiving leader Hakeem Nicks.
The junior, who has caught 60 passes for a school-record 1,005 yards and nine touchdowns this season, is contemplating turning pro. Davis said he’s talked to some NFL teams and will discuss it with Nicks a few days after the bowl.
North Carolina is in a bowl game for the first time since a loss to Boston College here in 2004. For the Tar Heels to win their first postseason game since 2001, they’ll have to prevent a dominating game from White, who has accounted for 100 touchdowns in his career — 53 passing and 47 rushing
Stewart hopes to be a winner at West Virginia, too. The New Martinsville, W.Va., native has a chance Saturday to go to 2-0 in bowls, following up last season’s improbable win that helped him get his dream job.