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Alex Grinch Struggling With Oklahoma's Defense: 'It’s Embarrassing as a Coach'

OU's defensive coordinator admitted he's failed to properly motivate the defense during their recent string of poor performances.

NORMAN — Alex Grinch is taking ownership for Oklahoma’s defensive struggles.

Again against Kansas, the Sooner defense struggled to get off the field on the first possession, allowing the Jayhawks to march 80 yards down the field and run nine minutes off the clock en route to a touchdown.

Not only did it put Oklahoma behind on the scoreboard, but it put the entire team behind the 8-ball, setting the table for another one of Lincoln Riley’s dreaded “low possession” games.

Allowing the opposing offense to set the tone has become a disturbing trend for the Sooners, as they’ve now let Tulane, Nebraska, West Virginia, Texas and Kansas score opening-possession touchdowns, and were a forced fumble away in Manhattan from the Kansas State Wildcats tacking on an early score while chewing clock.

In many ways, Saturday was the worst offense, as Oklahoma jumped offsides three times, helping one of college football's most anemic offenses waltz to the end zone.

During his weekly press conference, Grinch honed in on a lack of intensity in practice, a scenario which he calls taking reps on auto-pilot, failing to prepare the defense for the speed of the game on Saturdays as an issue.

“I think it speaks to focus,” Grinch said. “I mentioned the auto-pilot. What gets you to jump offsides? Something feels different on the Saturday game day than how you prepare over the course of a week.

“Then you look at it from a coaching standpoint — what are we failing to do over the course of the week to make Saturdays feel so different than the course of the game? How can you be on auto-pilot all week and still perform to a certain level where we feel we can put you in a game and all a sudden you get in the game and it feels different and it looks different.”

Grinch stopped short of blaming the players for their lack of intensity midweek, however, instead placing the blame squarely on his shoulders.

Over his 2 1/2 years in Norman, Grinch has prided himself on being able to reach his defense and find different ways to motivate them. But this year, he hasn’t been able to find the right message.

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“It’s embarrassing as a coach to make a small claim in that regard that the players need to do something. It’s our responsibility,” Grinch said. “We look at it through the lens of we’re not responsible for the outcomes, we’re responsible for the people that are responsible for outcomes.

“… So no, we don’t sit there and look at the players and say 'Go be better.' We look at it from a coaching standpoint. How can we inspire and motivate them to have a better Tuesday practice?”

And outside of two isolated performances against Nebraska and West Virginia, the coaches have missed the mark defensively.

Coming out of the Kansas game, OU now ranks 68th in the country in total defense and No. 113 nationally in passing defense.

The injuries have mounted, as Oklahoma missed five players who have started at one point for the defense this year in Woodi Washington, D.J. Graham, Delarrin Turner-Yell, Jeremiah Criddell and Jalen Redmond, but Grinch has been unable to find an answer to get the defense to play with any kind of consistency in their absence.

“I’ve been trying. Well OK, it’s a results business,” said Grinch, “I can tell you I try, but we don’t get judged based on effort. I’ve been working really hard. You can write that down.

“The coaches have been working really hard, that’s not how this thing goes. We’re not getting any outcomes. We’re not getting the results. We’re not playing at any level or standards, and that’s on us as coaches.”

So it’s back to the drawing board yet again for Week 9 for the defensive coaching staff, as Grinch and Co. try to find the right formula to get their unit to bounce back on Saturday afternoon against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

“What can we do different? What’s the message? We’re not reading the room in the right way, which obviously we’re not,” Grinch said. “I’ve done a really poor job with this group, mismanaged maybe the mental makeup of them maybe. So all of things you look at from a coaching standpoint so you encourage their behavior to change and ultimately you’re responsible for their behaviors to change.

“I think we’ve got a good group of guys and we’ve got to get it out of them.”