CU takes 2nd trip East in 3 weeks
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Here’s a sure way to change West Virginia coach Bill Stewart’s mood – mention last year’s game at Colorado.The Mountaineers ran for 311 yards, yet found the end zone just twice in the 17-14 overtime loss. Visions of Buffaloes quarterback Cody Hawkins throwing for two scores in the first five minutes still irk Stewart, who hopes Colorado’s offense is on the sidelines as much as possible on Thursday night.”We’re going to try to keep them off balance and try to keep them off rhythm,” Stewart said.Both teams had an extra week to prepare for what should be a festive atmosphere. Mountaineer Field always gets jacked up for a night game and even Colorado coach Dan Hawkins wants in on the experience.”It’s one of those great places in college football that you want to go to,” he said. “The fans are very passionate and they get after it there. It will be a lot of fun.”Colorado (1-2) is making its second trip East in three weeks. The Buffaloes gave up 624 yards in a 54-38 loss at Toledo on Sept. 12. Cody Hawkins sustained a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit at the goal line on a late, meaningless touchdown. He didn’t miss any playing time and a week later directed four scoring drives in a 24-0 win over Wyoming.It’s the quarterback’s tenacity that especially impresses Stewart.”This guy has winner written all over him,” he said. “Cody Hawkins is a tough guy. He’s just a great, great competitor. He knows what to do with the ball. He understands exactly what his dad’s offense is all about. The kid’s got it. And we’ve got to keep him from making plays.”If Hawkins isn’t clicking, Colorado has running back Rodney Stewart, who returned from a hamstring injury to rush for 127 yards and two touchdowns against Wyoming. Last year he had 166 yards against West Virginia, the most ever by a Colorado freshman, and the Mountaineers are coming off a 41-30 loss at Auburn, the most points surrendered by the team in three years.”We’ve got to fly to the ball and tackle better to rebound from Auburn,” West Virginia defensive back Brandon Hogan said. “It’s been an emphasis in practice.”West Virginia (2-1) committed six turnovers in the Sept. 19 loss – five by quarterback Jarrett Brown in his first road start. But Brown has performed well otherwise and is sixth nationally in total offense at 335 yards per game with a mix of passes and scrambling runs.”He’s a big guy, too,” Dan Hawkins said. “You have to really tackle him. You can’t just arm tackle him. He’ll run you over.”The Mountaineers also still have a bad taste from the game they should have won in Boulder, Colo., when kicker Pat McAfee missed a 23-yard goal try in overtime. Bill Stewart went back to last year’s videotape to compare notes for this game.”It made me sick watching it,” he said.One category in which West Virginia has improved on significantly since then is third-down conversions. WVU went just 3-of-13 in that game, part of a season-long slump. The Mountaineers currently rank sixth among Football Bowl Subdivision teams with a 58 percent conversion rate. Stewart is getting more tight ends into the lineup and has relied on 228-pound redshirt freshman Ryan Clarke to help get those extra few yards.Dan Hawkins feels better about his defense entering the Buffaloes’ final tuneup before Big 12 play starts on Oct. 10 at No. 2 Texas, to be followed by a matchup at home against No. 18 Kansas. Colorado is allowing 410 yards per game, which ranks 101st in the FBS.So what needs to improve on a team that lost its first two games to underdog opponents, then limited Wyoming to 76 rushing yards?”Everything,” the coach said.