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Oklahoma's Key Lawrence Stepped Up Amidst a Poor Defensive Showing

While the OU defense played below par, one member of the secondary  put in his best performance of the season.

Early in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oklahoma safety Key Lawrence changed the game.

The Oklahoma Sooners had just scored a touchdown to take the lead 21-17, OU’s first lead of the game, against the putrid Kansas Jayhawks. But getting the ball back with 12:30 left in the game, Kansas again began to march down the field on the Sooner defense.

Kansas crossed over into Oklahoma territory, but Lawrence rallied to the football, stripping the Jayhawks’ Steven McBride. Justin Broiles recovered, and Oklahoma scored to extend the lead to 28-17, a swing they needed to finish off Kansas.

But after the game, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch wasn’t merely satisfied with the result. Grinch was frustrated that those kinds of effort plays haven’t happened more often in recent weeks for the Sooners.

“Why aren't we seeing that more?” Grinch said after the game. “Where are those gang tackles with guys stripping at the football? What are we doing wrong as a coaching staff to not convince guys of the impact of those plays? We keep seeing the impact once we do do that, so why is that not happening more?

“Maybe the second guy to the pile might be the first guy, but just all the way down to the ground, diving for that football, and the impact, you wanna get off the field? Make a play.”

And while the lack of rallying to the football and gang tackling has been an effort issue over the past few weeks, Oklahoma has lived off of forcing fumbles this year.

Through eight games, the Sooners have dislodged nine fumbles compared to just three interceptions.

Over the past four weeks, the fumbles have more times than not changed the game, too.

Against Kansas State, the fumble and Nik Bonitto’s ensuing return kept the Wildcats off the scoreboard on their first drive of the game. Caleb Kelly’s strip on the kickoff against Texas saw the Sooners take the lead for the first time against the Longhorns, and Lawrence’s play against the Jayhawks nearly put the game out of reach.

There’s been no better proof of Grinch’s turnovers equal victory mantra than OU’s recent stretch of games. Yet, they puzzlingly seem to still lack maximum effort on every drive, coming out flat or relaxing after OU takes a two-score lead in the second halves of games.

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Grinch is aware of his unit’s propensity to relax at times, a trend the Sooners will have to break over their last four games of the regular season.

“We certainly have been guilty of that at times around here,” Grinch said last Tuesday in his press conference ahead of the Kansas game. “It's been a major focus point, frustration point and one of the things we say is our performance always matters. It always matters, regardless of what the scoreboard reads.

“… That's something we have to be very conscious of is making sure that we're all conscious enough about our careers and our performance matters as players and coaches.”

Clearly, the message hasn’t sunken through to the players yet.

Thankfully for Grinch, Lawrence got the message and put in his best all-around performance of the season against Kansas.

“Key stepped up,” Grinch said. “If I think about the guys that have stepped up over the recent weeks, that list is very short, which means we've gotta do a better job of preparing the guys.

“He'd be one of the guys at the top. He's stepped up in his role.”

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