DANA

Head Coach Dana Holgerson speaking with safety Kyzir White

Now is where we find out where West Virginia stands in relation to the rest of the Big 12.

After three straight games against teams with losing records since a season-opening loss to Virginia Tech --- East Carolina, Delaware State and Kansas --- the Mountaineers schedule gets increasingly more difficult. They travel to TCU on Saturday, who is undefeated, ranked No. 8 in the country and beat an Oklahoma State team that many thought could end Oklahoma’s reign at the top of the Big 12.

WVU’s offense certainly impressed through the first four games. Junior quarterback Will Grier is 17th national in passing yards despite the bye week. His 13 passing touchdowns are tied for sixth.

Grier’s top receiver, junior David Sills, is tied for the national lead in touchdown catches (7). Junior Gary Jennings is averaging 100 yards.

The offense ranks second in scoring and yards per game, trailing only Oregon and Oklahoma in those categories, respectively.

And don’t forget about the run game --- senior Justin Crawford eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in each of the first four games.

But just how will the Mountaineers be able to beat TCU on the road, when ESPN’s College GameDay is also in town, and prove they are a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the Big 12?

There are two answers: defense and consistency.

Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has proved he’s one of the best at what he does. His unit continually retools even though they lose multiple players to the NFL each year.

But it’s been different this year. Losing seven to eight starters finally caught up to WVU (for now), and the defense is struggling to stop the run to rank ninth out of 10 teams in the conference in that category, while also suffering numerous breakdowns to allow big plays for the opposition.

Health has something to do with that. Key contributors went down, but almost all --- except for backup linebacker Brendan Ferns, who is out for the year with a shoulder injury --- will return for Saturday’s affair at TCU, according to head coach Dana Holgorsen at his weekly press conference.

Maybe a healthy defense gets back to what a prototypical Gibson group looks like.

They don’t need to look like Alabama’s or Clemson’s defenses, which are among the best in the country (again). They just need to limit the breakdowns as much as they can and find ways to contain the run more successfully

Maintaining consistency throughout the entire game is key, too.

When WVU is clicking, it is almost unstoppable. We saw it in the second and fourth quarters against Kansas. We saw it in the first half against East Carolina.

However, the Mountaineers go through lulls. Just look at what happened in the third quarter against Kansas.

While harboring a 35-13 lead at halftime, the victory appeared to be well in the team’s hands. Yet the Jayhawks started to seize momentum and got within one score twice before WVU woke up to take the 56-34 win in the Big 12 opener.

If WVU plays the full 60 minutes up to its potential and plays defense similar to the last few years, it could find itself in the thick of the Big 12 title race.

Saturday’s game at undefeated TCU will be a good measuring stick, especially with a challenging schedule that features matchups against ranked opponents in Oklahoma and Oklahoma State down the road.