It's been a veritable Jekyll-and-Hyde act for the Oklahoma defensive line through the first four games of the Big 12 slate.
In losses to Kansas State and Iowa State, the Sooners looked porous at best and invisible at worst.
But over the past two contests, the Sooners' trench warriors have looked utterly ferocious, racking up nine total sacks and utterly discombobulating the opponent's rushing attack. Texas running backs managed just 29 yards on the ground, while TCU backs accrued a mere 54.
The switch appears to have flipped, and nobody's more thrilled to see it than defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
“Been pleased,” Grinch said. “And I still think it’s one of those things where we haven’t seen our best yet in our defensive front. We have been disruptive at times, which has been good.”
Six different defensive linemen recorded a tackle for loss last Saturday against the Horned Frogs, an indication that the Sooners' depth is as much of a strength as their raw talent. Grinch credited new outside linebackers/defensive ends coach Jamar Cain with aiding Oklahoma's resurgent play.
“I think the biggest thing with coach Cain is he’s been a number of different places like a number of guys on the staff,” Grinch said. “Anytime you have an elite coach that brings good perspective, new perspective that can add to a staff, that is best case scenario. And he does all those things, checks all those boxes.”
Having top-flight talent in the position group certainly helps matters. Rush end Nik Bonitto looks like a budding superstar; even without Ronnie Perkins opposite him, the redshirt sophomore has been a force in the "mug" role for Grinch.
“I think he’s a tremendous fit,” said Grinch. “Another guy that continues to get better. Nik is very much the prototype for someone like that in that position. I’ve been very pleased with him so far.”
But Grinch sounded most impressed with Isaiah Thomas, a Tulsa Memorial product who's finally found his niche on the line as a redshirt junior. Thomas has seen time at both defensive end and defensive tackle thus far in 2020, and his willingness to do whatever is asked of him has left a definite impression on Grinch.
“All he does is exactly what he’s being coached to do,” Grinch said of Thomas. “He does it to the best of his abilities as hard he can possibly do it. It’s amazing how guys have the tendency to be productive when those things take place. He’s a leader by example, but again he’s certainly a dynamic guy up front and probably has been the MVP of the defense up to this point.”
The Sooners face one of the Big 12's most dynamic backs this weekend in Texas Tech's Sarodorick Thompson. Last time Oklahoma went up against a truly elite running back, Iowa State's Breece Hall rambled for 139 yards and two touchdowns in Ames. However, if Grinch is to be believed, this isn't the same defensive front that Hall ran circles around. Come Halloween night, the Sooners' reinvigorated run defense may give Thompson and the Red Raiders nightmares.
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