MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Most of the talk following West Virginia’s 38-7 loss at Missouri has been about the struggling Mountaineers offense, but defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is having none of that. In his mind, that conversation only masks a performance that still would have resulted in a loss even if WVU’s offense was capable of turning the game into a shootout.

“What should have been the storyline was ‘West Virginia has nine sacks against Missouri,’” Koenning said. “That didn’t end up being the storyline.”

By Koenning’s count, Mizzou quarterback Kelly Bryant wriggled his way out of five sacks due to poor tackling from West Virginia’s defense. Three of those drives ended up in Missouri touchdowns. The Mountaineers finished the game with two sacks.

“He looked like he was the big kid on the playground,” said WVU head coach Neal Brown. “You know how the oldest kid is always the quarterback and the littlest kids try to get him? It reminded me of Mountaineer Football Camp when the coaches play quarterback and the little kids are running around trying to get the big kid down.

“He would kind of swipe us away and keep running.”

West Virginia finished the game with 22 missed tackles.

“That eats at me a lot,” said senior spear JoVanni Stewart. “That’s kind of real embarrassing. But I’m glad it’s happening early so we can move past it and get better.”

That will be a must against North Carolina State, which comes into Saturday averaging 522.5 yards of total offense per game. The Wolfpack have been one of the nation’s most balanced offenses over the first two weeks, with 47.8 percent of their yards coming on the ground and 52.2 percent via the pass.

Koenning believes his defense needs individuals willing to act more unhinged than they showed at Missouri.

“We are way more capable than what we showed,” Koenning said. “We have to have more courage to make plays. You can’t just freeze up. You’ve got to be relentless. When you get out there, it’s a fight. If you’re not willing to fight and go to a place that’s a little bit nuts, a little bit crazy, you’re not going to be able to play this game.

“Too many guys didn’t go to that place. They’re nice guys. Happy to be there. Maybe enjoying the [Mizzou] Golden Girls. We’ve got to inspire our players to get to that place where they can be tough and physical.”

Koenning is borrowing heavily from Bill Belichick this week with the mantra of “do your job.”

“Guys were trying to do more than their own job,” Stewart said. “In any situation when adversity hits you, a lot of guys try to do more than they should be doing. I do sometimes. It’s just being competitive.”

Based on what he has seen through spring practices and training camp, Koenning believes his group is capable of measuring up to his expectations. In the second half of both games this year, they’ve mostly done so. Now they just need to figure it out from the opening kickoff.

“When you get where someone can’t or won’t do something – I don’t think we have any guys who have gotten to that,” Koenning said. “I 100-percent think our guys can. That should have been the message our guys got.”