It is no secret that the Oklahoma defense has been shaky, to say the least, in the last several weeks.
Since a fantastic shutdown of West Virginia in Norman on Sept. 25, the Sooners have allowed Kansas State, Texas, TCU and Kansas to all move the ball effectively for significant stretches of game action.
Now, after such a promising beginning, many fans are nervous the defensive issues that lie underneath can’t/won’t be addressed in the slim time remaining in the season.
However, both Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch say otherwise.
“1,000% it is, absolutely,” Grinch said this week if the defense's problems are fixable. “You know, you know, if you look at it and say OK, you got four starters out on defense, you look at OK, number one, as a coaching staff, I'm looking at my practice time, saying OK, we’re down four guys, we can't lose five and six. So I want to practice in a certain way that would be tentative. I accused myself of that. Then you come off a COVID year, we should be like say like an expert and trying to jockey and get through practices and making sure guys are still preparing the necessary amount of work, not too much or you put them at risk. You know, nice three weeks, again you feel like you're an expert, obviously you’re not.”
Riley’s primary reason for having optimism in a defensive turnaround through the final stretch of the season lies mostly in a belief that the defensive miscues have been self-inflicted - and not just a simple case of the players getting beat by opposing offenses.
“The biggest issue I see with us, and it's certainly not to take anything away from Kansas, but we are -- the majority of breakdowns that we have, we're causing,” Riley said. “You know, we've had we've had a couple of times, you know, the TCU game, the guy made a couple of phenomenal catches. We've had a few things like that over the stretch, but we've had way too many that we're serving it up on a silver platter, sort of saying for offenses. And the flipside of that is, is when we do play well, we do our job. We show signs of being the really good defense that we feel like we can be and we have shown good chunks of the season.
“So I think my confidence level is still very high. There's things, obviously, we have to correct with the guys that have been playing. We're going to have a chance to get a batch of starters back here pretty quick, which I don't care where you're at, how much depth you have, anything like that -- that makes a difference. And I think it'll be a good shot in the arm in addition to identify these areas that need to get corrected, especially the mistakes that are leading to some of these points."
To put it most simply, Riley believes the quality of the opponent would not have mattered with the mishaps that Oklahoma has had defensively.
So, while the attention will largely be on what a 1-6 Jayhawks team just did on Saturday, it wasn’t about what they were doing as much as what the Sooners weren't doing.
“For us, our expectations every week are to play at a high level,” Riley said. “Did it affect some of our players specifically? Maybe some of our younger players? I can’t sit there and promise you that it didn’t as far as the opponent or maybe thinking that it was going to be easier than it was. Does the disappointment feel any different because of who the opponent was? No. No. Listen that could have been the Muleshoe JV team, and if you’re going to jump offsides a ton of times, if you’re not going to fit runs correctly, they’re gonna get yards unless they just fumble the snap. I mean, you’re gonna get yards when we jump offsides unless you jump offsides first. I mean, there’s just some fundamental things that you have to do defensively or you give yourself no chance. Obviously, things we’re capable of doing, we expect to do and I think that we’ll do a lot better.”
Riley and Grinch won’t have to wait long to put that theory to the test as they get set to host Texas Tech on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT in Norman.
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