OU Players ‘Gotten Better’, Smothering Non-Conference Opponents
By: Ryan Chapman, Editor-in-Chief
The Oklahoma Sooners are 7-0 for the first time since 2004, and are being led by an unlikely group– the Oklahoma defense.
Sooner fans were told after the impressive showing against Houston in their opening game to hold judgement on the defense until the unit played at a high level week in and week out.
After smothering their non-conference opponents, fans were then told to wait until the showdown with Texas halfway through the season to see if the defense is for real.
Leaving the Cotton Bowl, Sooner fans now have something dangerous.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has turned the worst defense in school history into a group currently ranked number 23 in the country in total defense (an improvement of 48 spots from this point last season).
Head Coach Lincoln Riley said he has been pleased with how the defense has played in their first season under Grinch.
“I think they’ve taken to this new system and bought into the aggressiveness and techniques we want to have,” Riley said in his press conference ahead of Oklahoma’s matchup with Kansas State.
Even more impressive, Grinch has taken the defense’s achilles heel from last season, third down defense, and turned it into a strength of this season’s group.
The defense had improved from number 85 in third down defense through seven games last season to sitting at number 7 in the country.
The defense has benefitted from new additions and better play from returning starters alike.
“Some young players that haven’t played much or at all have stepped up,” Riley said. “Guys that have played a few snaps around here have just gotten better.”
Though strides have been made in many areas with the defense, Grinch preaches the importance of creating turnovers.
The Sooners have failed to force a turnover in three straight games, which is an area Grinch says his defense must improve.
“I literally can’t remember the last time [his defense has gone three games without a turnover]” Grinch said in his post-practice press conference ahead of the Kansas State matchup.
“There’s several teams that find themselves with a frustrating Sunday after a Saturday simply because of that turnover margin,” Grinch said.
Despite losing the turnover battle in three of their seven games this season, the Sooner remain unbeaten. But Grinch said he still must stress the importance of learning from other teams who have lost because they aren’t forcing turnovers.
“We’ve got to make sure we learn from some of the stories [other teams have learned] before we learn it for ourselves,” Grinch said.
Riley said the defense to advantage of turnover opportunities when they present themselves.
“We keep finding a couple opportunities each game we feel we can make a play on the ball,” Riley said. “You got to continue to create opportunities.”
The Sooners will face a unique test ahead of the bye week as they head to Manhattan, KS. to face Kansas State.
To this point, Oklahoma has not played a team with a power run game quite like the Wildcats.
Grinch said registering tackles for loss will be important to throw Kansas State off their game plan.
After the bye week, Oklahoma’s schedule picks up as they play Big 12 contenders Iowa State and Baylor in back-to-back weeks.