West Virginia Football: Bill Stewart's Coaching Future off Life Support

Tom PerryCorrespondent INovember 20, 2010

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Bill Stewart of the West Virginia Mountaineers watches his team take on the Florida State Seminoles during the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl on January 1, 2010 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. Florida State defeated West Virginia 33-21 in Bobby Bowden's last game as a head coach for the Seminoles.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

It has only taken 10 games to figure this out: West Virginia can be both awesome and lifeless at the same time.

That's not easy to do, but after watching the Mountaineers improve to 7-3 with a 17-10 victory at Louisville Saturday this reality was never more clear.

Any road conference win is nice, so take it and enjoy it. The victory more than likely removes the threat of Head Coach Bill Stewart losing his job this season, especially if the Mountaineers win out and go 9-3 (even though 8-4 is more realistic).

"Any time you can get a win in the Big East, the way we've been knocking each other off all year, you have to come away feeling good," Stewart said in his post-game press conference.

Yet, something just isn't right with WVU.

The defense is just fine. Actually, Jeff Casteel's defense was outstanding.

What is so confusing and frustrating is the lack of execution by the offense. It's easy to point the blame at Offensive Coordinator Jeff Mullen (and don't be shocked when Mullen is unceremoniously jettisoned by Stewart after this season), but it's more than play calling.

The early season injury to Noel Devine clearly hampered WVU's running attack and put pressure on FB Ryan Clarke and QB Geno Smith to pick up the slack. But that doesn't explain the poor play of the offensive line, especially their ability to effectively pick up a blitz.

You want to fluster the WVU offense just keep blitzing from all over the field. Smith does his best to find a hot receiver, but his protection usually breaks down too quick.

One thing Mullen did today that he doesn't normally do is let Smith throw the ball deep. The sophomore throws a great deep ball. Unfortunately today, two high school teammates of Smiths — Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney — each dropped perfectly thrown deep balls that would have jump started the offense.

So all of the blame can't fall to Mullen.

It was also nice to see the coaches get RB Shawne Alston more reps. He's a tough runner, and when WVU actually lined up in an I-formation the offensive line actually looks physical and pushes people around.

This group seems to be a better fit for a more traditional offense than the hybrid spread that Mullen is running.

Now back to the defense.

"We got after Louisville very, very hard and very, very diligently on the defensive side of our ball," Stewart said, "that in return is what Louisville did to us."

What WVU did was completely shut down a Louisville running game that was averaging 192.3 yards per game. How about this for a stat? Louisville's leading rusher was punter Chris Philpott, who had 21 yards on a fake punt.

Sack machine Bruce Irvin picked up two more, while DB Keith Tandy had another huge hit and a key interception that sealed the victory.

The defense is now allowing a minuscule 11.9 points a game, and over the past two weeks they've allowed three first downs on 25 third-down attempts.

This Friday's Backyard Brawl against Pitt should be a defensive struggle. Holding onto the ball and special teams play could be crucial to who wins this game.

The winner will more than likely represent the Big East in a BCS Bowl Game (probably the Fiesta Bowl), so a lot is riding on this game.

It's time for Stewart and Mullen to open up the offensive playbook a little this week, instead of relying solely on the defense winning another game.

Stewart may still pay with his job if WVU doesn't win the conference, but his prospects are certainly looking much better than a few weeks ago.