Oklahoma 2020 Report Card: Exterior Defensive Line

SI Sooners Publisher John Hoover and Deputy Editor Ryan Chapman look back on the 2020 season, handing out position-by-position grades for every position group
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Hoover’s Grade: A+

Oklahoma’s defense was playing at an OK level through five games. Isaiah Thomas and Nik Bonitto each had accounted for 3.5 tackles for loss. Bonitto had two quarterback sacks, and Thomas had 1.5

Then Ronnie Perkins showed up for the Texas Tech game, and everything changed.

With Perkins on the opposite side, Bonitto and Thomas both exploded for 6.5 sacks over the Sooners’ final six games. Perkins himself got 5.5.

Marcus Stripling also benefited, going from 1.0 sack pre-Perkins to 2.5 post-Perkins.

Perkins, Thomas and Bonitto each earned All-Big 12 accolades and shaped Oklahoma into one of the nation’s most formidable defensive fronts.

Everyone knew Perkins would be great when he got back from NCAA suspension. But nobody saw Bonitto becoming a first-team All-American, or Thomas becoming a first-team All-Big 12 performer. Their rise changed not only what the Sooners’ front four looked like, but also an OU secondary that two years ago ranked last in the nation in pass defense.

Nik Bonitto

Nik Bonitto

Chapman's Grade: A+

For years, the Oklahoma defense lacked a consistent pass rush, and every level of the unit suffered. 

In 2020, Alex Grinch turned up the heat on opposing quarterbacks. 

Earning First Team All-American Honors from Pro Football Focus, Nik Bonitto led the way with 8.5 quarterback sacks, and the redshirt sophomore's output might not have even been the best story of the season. 

Biding his time in the program, Isaiah Thomas burst onto the scene. Totaling 20 tackles and eight sacks, Grinch openly campaigned for Thomas to be named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. 

Ronnie Perkins' reinstatement ahead of the matchup with Texas Tech took the defense to another level as he posted an eye popping 23 total tackles and 5.5 sacks in just six games of action. 

Perkins will depart for the NFL in 2021, but the unit is still poised to have another huge campaign returning Thomas and Bonitto, as well as working Marcus Stripling and Reggie Grimes into the rotation. 

Oklahoma 2020 Report Card schedule:

  • Saturday, Jan. 9: Safeties and Nickelback 
  • Sunday, Jan. 10: Cornerbacks
  • Monday, Jan. 11: Linebackers
  • Tuesday, Jan. 12: Interior Defensive Line
  • Thursday, Jan. 14: Special Teams
  • Friday, Jan. 15: Tight end/H-backs
  • Saturday, Jan. 16: Offensive Line
  • Sunday, Jan. 17: Wide Receivers
  • Monday, Jan. 18: Running Backs
  • Tuesday, Jan. 19: Quarterbacks
  • Wednesday, Jan. 20: Coaches