COLUMBIA, Mo. — West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning isn’t claiming that he favors the DC Comics Universe over Marvel, but he compared his unit’s efforts against Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant to Ant-Man, while the grad transfer from Missouri was more like DC’s most iconic superhero.
“It seemed like he was Superman and we were Ant-Man,” Koenning said.
The reason Koenning thinks Bryant is like the Man of Steel is because the WVU defense couldn’t stop Bryant’s arm or legs. In fact, the only thing that slowed Bryant on Saturday was the heat in the fourth quarter that forced him out the remainder of the game, but at that point, it was already 31-0 Tigers.
While he finished with only five yards on the ground, his maneuverability in the pocket extended plays, and Mountaineer defenders just couldn’t get him to the ground. He finished 17-of-25 for 150 passing yards and three touchdowns, with much of that total coming when he escaped danger.
“I don’t think they were really throwing the ball all that well except when he scrambled and converted some plays after we missed four or five missed tackles on sacks,” Koenning said. “If you want to start counting missed tackles, we probably set a school record. I’d be shocked if that wasn’t a school record for missed tackles, so we obviously need to learn how to tackle better.”
Bryant dodged WVU defenders left and right during the first half, and also was able to break free from several attempts where it looked like he was dead to rights.
“We had a hard time tackling him — I don’t know how many times he broke away from us,” head coach Neal Brown said. “We got to him a little bit early, but he broke some tackles and then they blocked us. A lot of those plays where he ran could have been big negative plays if we had gotten him down, but credit to him, he played good enough to win.”
Koenning believes tackle attempts on Kelly were poor because defenders tried to bring him down too high. Senior defensive end Reese Donahue, who finished with two tackles, said it all comes down to technique.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks that we’ll see all year, but that doesn’t give us the excuse, though, for our bad tackling,” Donahue said. “This week, we’re going to get after it tackling a little bit better, and really, it’s all about technique, repping it in practice and practicing good habits. It’s easy to slack off in practice and when you’re only in uppers, but we need to learn how to bring that into the game.”
For the second-straight week, Josh Chandler led the Mountaineers in tackles, and he echoed what Donahue said about getting better in practice. The team was aware of Bryant’s ability to move around in the pocket, but it was poorly executed from start to finish.
“These are NFL-type guys, so again, no excuses, but we knew these guys had the ability to break tackles,” he said.
West Virginia’s defense pitched a shutout in the second half, but Koenning isn’t sure how much he can take from it. There were positives and negatives in the final two quarters after Mizzou was dominant in the first half.
“I’m sure when you’re up 31-0, then you don’t have the piss and vinegar that you had in the first half,” he said. “I think it is important to note that they didn’t score in the second half and our guys didn’t quit. Coach Brown challenged them, as well as the defensive coaches, and you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. So we went one play at a time, and we didn’t let them score, so you can take something out of that.”