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West Virginia University safety Sean Mahone said the Mountaineer defense has tuned out all the negative outside talk that cropped up in the preseason.

MORGANTOWN — Sean Mahone could see it coming.

Of course, West Virginia University’s 5-foot-11, 200-pound redshirt junior had a nice view from his position at safety.

That’s why Mahone knew the Mountaineers’ reconfigured defensive line was going to cause a lot more mayhem than it had recently.

So, during preseason when he was asked what this WVU defense does best, Mahone barely hesitated before answering the question.

“Uh, the best thing our defense does,” he said, “um, I feel like with this defense that we have now, I feel like we’re more aggressive up front ... the D-line. It’s different with the four men down. Sometimes it makes it a lot easier for us defensive backs to cover.”

Mahone nailed it.

Just ask North Carolina State.

WVU’s defensive line dominated the Wolfpack during the 44-27 victory, amassing 11 solo tackles. There’s no better indication of just how dominant the defensive line was.

Reese Donahue, a 6-4, 285-pound senior from Milton, had four tackles, including two solo stops. Dante Stills, a 6-3, 295-pound sophomore, had three tackles (all solos) and two sacks. Darius Stills, a 6-1, 292-pound junior, had three tackles (all solos) and two tackles for loss. Jeffery Pooler, a 6-2, 255-pound junior, had two tackles (both solos). And Quondarius Qualls, a 6-1, 240 redshirt senior, had three tackles (one solo) and 0.5 tackles for loss.

Looks like that new scheme in the defensive front is working pretty darned well.

“In this defense you have to be aggressive,” explained Mahone, who checked in with five tackles (all solos). “There are checks and balances. It’s about knowing your job, knowing your role. As long as you know your job, you do what you do, everybody is going to be in the right spots to minimize big plays.”

It happened the entire second half against NC State as WVU’s defense held the Wolfpack to only 97 yards total offense and no touchdowns.

That’s what Kansas has to look forward to at 4:30 p.m. Saturday when the Jayhawks host the Mountaineers in Memorial Stadium at Lawrence, Kansas.

All this is particularly sweet to Mahone, who witnessed all the off-season groaning, moaning and hand-wringing about the Mountaineers’ decimated safety positions.

And, in truth, WVU did seem devastated by the departures of All-Big 12 selection Kenny Robinson, Derrek Pitts (who played in 12 games in 2018 but transferred to Marshall) and E.J. Brown.

But Mahone?

He never blinked.

“I don’t listen to what people say outside,” he said. “I just feel like we’re going to prove a lot of people wrong. We just worry about ourselves.

“I wasn’t nervous. I just knew this is what I had to do. I told myself that I just had to step up. This is all we have right now.”

Obviously, it’s enough. Even when starting free safety Josh Norwood was ejected for helmet-to-helmet contact early in the game, true freshman Kerry Martin Jr. entered the game and held his own.

That’s what defensive coordinator and safeties coach Vic Koenning preached to his players.

“He said basically that this was all we’ve got,” said Mahone. “You’re the older guy, if somebody needs help, if somebody needs to learn stuff — he’s going to look to me. So, I have to step up.”

The worried naysayers also helped.

“Yeah, it still provides motivation,” said Mahone. “But we try not to listen to that. At the end of the day, they’re not playing. We’re playing.”

And playing well.

Contact Derek Redd at 304-348-1712 or derek.redd@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.