No. 23 Mountaineers hit the books

West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (7) evades Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) as he runs for a first down during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo)

MORGANTOWN — With its most important Big 12 game looming at 3:30 p.m. today, No. 23 West Virginia (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) spent much of its ‘bye’ week improving its tackling technique, getting more consistent on offense and….

Working hard in the classroom.

“The first thing we stressed is academics,” running backs assistant coach Tony Dews explained during Tuesday’s press conference. “We’ve got to make sure everybody’s on page and caught up to where they’re supposed to be school-wise. This is a good week to stay on them. We have been on them all semester, but to make sure that they’re caught up if they got behind on anything. We really stressed the academics this week.

“When we got out on the field to practice again, the fundamental part of it and just continue to get better at all the little things, the details. Making sure we have the ball secure. There were a couple times we got loose with the ball in my opinion against Kansas. So we don’t want to get lackadaisical with fundamentals.”

Not a bad idea when your ball carriers are about to go up against the league’s top run stoppers in TCU (4-0, 1-0 Big 12), which has allowed a league-low 94.5 yards per game in the Horned Frogs first four contests.

“If you turn on their film defensively, they’re playing really well and they have guys that I’ve been looking at over the course of the last three years,” head coach Dana Holgorsen explained. “Obviously, they’re led by their middle (linebacker), the (Travin) Howard kid, No. 32. He started against us two years ago when we were at TCU. It may have been his first start, I can’t remember. He wasn’t at that position very long because he was a 6-foot, 190-pound guy that was playing middle linebacker. They had just moved him from safety.

“But two years later, he’s as good as anybody out there. He’s quite a bit bigger than he was and he’s all over the place making play after play after play.

“They’re deep; their front is always good. They rarely have to out-number you in the box, which is a different type situation than what we’re usually used to. They just do a really good job of just coaching their guys up with technique and them playing with high motors and doing a great job of getting off blocks. They’re as sure of tacklers as we’re going to see out there. And their coverages, they read routes better than anybody. They’re going to know exactly what positons they’re going to have to be in and they’re rarely out of position. So, they’re as good as they’ve always been defensively and their stats show that.”

Of course Holgorsen and his Mountaineers hopefully have an answer in University of Florida transfer Will Grier at quarterback and a receiving corps, that while it is not deep, does have several playmakers.

“He (Grier) adds a dimension that we will have to take into consideration,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson said. “The (Skyler) Howard kid beat us last year so we know that Dana and his staff can coach a quarterback up and have them ready to play. He (Grier) will be ready and his receivers will be ready so we will have to be ready as well.”

Grier comes into his second Big 12 contest ranked No. 3 in both passing yardage (343.5 ypg) and efficiency (171.1) through the Old Gold and Blue’s first four games and has two of the 10-team league’s top pass catchers in juniors Gary Jennings Jr. (29-438, 1 TD) and David Sills V (26-396, 7 TDs).

Throw in speedsters Ka’Raun White and Marcus Simms and WVU appears to have the weapons to force the Horned Frogs to think ‘pass first’ which could offer up more opportunities for senior running back Justin Crawford.

Crawford comes into today’s tilt leading the conference in rushing with an average of 112.8 yards per game. But has carried the mail only 61 times this season.

“Justin has been completely selfless,” added Dews. “Again, that goes back to what I said in February, once we got through spring ball and this far in the season, he understands that sometimes it helps him. Going through last year where he got banged up a little bit, he appreciates that there’s some depth in the room and that we can share the load. They also share the load in practice, so it is not one guy all practice long carrying it and carrying it and carrying it.”

∫ The game will be televised on FS1 with Aaron Goldsmith providing the play-by-play while Brady Quinn will be the analyst and Bruce Feldman walking the sidelines.

∫ West Virginia’s home encounter with Texas Tech has been announced as a sellout.