Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The aftermath of last season's wild Colorado-West Virginia game remains firmly etched in Colorado running back Rodney Stewart's memory.
Not only did he rush for a career-high 166 yards to spark the Buffaloes to a 17-14 upset victory in overtime, but he also learned the cardinal rule about celebrating on the field after a victory.
“I took my helmet off and laid it down on the grass for a few moments,” Stewart said. “Then when I turned around, it was gone.”
Stewart said he never found his helmet and never has faced any fallout from his school about the departure. But it still taught him about too much jubilation without accounting for all of his playing equipment.
“Yeah, I've always kept my helmet pretty close by after that,” Stewart said with a chuckle.
The Buffaloes would love for Stewart to duplicate last season's big performance – with or without his helmet after the game -- when they travel to meet the Mountaineers in the rematch Thursday night in Morgantown, W. Va. (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET).
Their hopes of springing an upset will obviously depend on a big outing from their ground game, which has been riddled with injuries this season.
Stewart missed most of the first two games with a hamstring injury, accounting for only 38 yards in those two losses.
But he rebounded in a big way in his most recent game, rushing for 127 yards to spark the Buffaloes' 24-0 spanking of Wyoming.
The injury was a disappointing reminder for Stewart about how his 2008 season ended up. After producing a team-best 622 yards in only eight games, he sustained a broken leg late last season after a horse-collar tackle by Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller.
Stewart's early setback was similarly frustrating because of his hard work over the offseason in rehabilitation.
“It was really disappointing because I was going through the same thing as last year,” Stewart said. “But it just made me work that much harder so I could get back into the lineup.”
Despite playing at less than 100 percent, Stewart accounted for a career-best 32 carries in the triumph over the Cowboys. He was pressed into the additional service because Darrell Scott missed the game with a bruised knee.
“You definitely get into a rhythm when you get the ball a lot,” Stewart said. “I just wanted to make the most of my chance to carry when it was there.”
Stewart's contributions helped provide some juice for a moribund Colorado running attack that produced an average of 62 rushing yards per game in the first two games.
“Having a healthy 'Speedy' back there is really going to help your chances on offense,” Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins said. “He brings energy, fun, play-making ability, speed, explosion, swagger and confidence to the field. He's a great guy for our offense.”
That win was huge for the Buffaloes after their early-season losses to Colorado State and Toledo. Stewart said he can sense an attitude change since the triumph.
“It turned things around a lot and let us know we had confidence as a team,” Stewart said. “We just want to build on that for our next game.”
The Buffaloes and Stewart will be challenged by a West Virginia rush defense that ranks 14th nationally and has yielded 100 rushing yards as a team only once this season.
“I think they are pretty similar to last year,” Stewart said. “They don't really blitz as much as they did last year. I think they were probably a little more athletic last season, but we've still got to get ready to play.”
And like last season, the game will be played before a national television audience on Thursday.
Stewart vows to be ready with his helmet accounted for at all times.
“I love Thursday night games,” Stewart said. “I really wish we could play every game on that night.”