A monumental task has been laid at the feet of Alex Grinch.
The new defensive coordinator inherits a defense on the worst stretch in school history. Unfortunately for Grinch, there will be no adjustment period.
When Lincoln Riley is in charge of the offense, you will often find yourself competing at the highest level of the game. With the historic production of the Oklahoma offense comes expectations on the defense.
Sooner fans aren’t asking the world of Grinch, but they want a defense capable of catapulting Oklahoma to the top level of college football hierarchy, to truly compete with Alabama and Clemson.
Lincoln Riley knew exactly what he wanted out of his defensive coordinator search, and he thinks he found it with Grinch.
“I love what they do schematically. But more important than that, I love the mentality that he has instilled in his players,” Riley said.
At the center of the mentality Grinch demands, are three simple factors.
Grinch has a very simple equation for defense winning football games.
“We did a study a couple years ago. Essentially, 24 takeaways equaled 9 wins, regardless of any other statistic,” he said.
Now, merely nine wins might set Norman on fire, but the root of his theory could be difference in the maligned Sooner defense in 2019.
With much of last year’s unit returning, Grinch’s revolution won’t be centered on new personnel, but an environment of relentless effort on every snap.
Grinch himself gave a bleak assessment of his unit at the conclusion of spring practice.
“I don’t see a brand of football that would put us anywhere close to the top,” he said. “I wouldn’t even claim we’re in the top half of the country.”
But before Sooner fans slam the panic button, perhaps they could look to a familiar foe and see the impact turnovers can have on a below average defense.
Oklahoma should aspire to replicate the 2011 rendition of the Oklahoma State defense.
Mike Gundy’s Cowboys recorded perhaps their best season in school history in 2011, finishing one field goal in Ames, Iowa away from a berth in the national championship game.
The high flying offense wasn’t complimented by a defense blowing teams out of the water. Statistically, the Cowboy defense finished 88th nationally in total defense, surrendering 456.8 yards a game.
Bill Young’s unit did one thing better than anyone else in the nation, however. They forced turnovers.
Finishing the year with 44 takeaways, Oklahoma State recorded the most turnovers college football has seen in a decade.
But other than turnovers, the defense more resembled last year’s Sooner defense than any product Alabama or Clemson puts on the field.
Last season Oklahoma allowed 453.8 yards per game, comparable to the 2011 Cowboys. Finishing 114th in total defense, the Sooners only surrendered one more touchdown a game on average than those Cowboys, but they forced a mere 11 turnovers all season, the worst output in program history.
Despite their shortcomings between the 20’s, the 2011 Cowboy defense made big plays when it counted, and many believe the unit would have been good enough to deliver a title to Stillwater had they not stubbed their toe in an emotional upset at Iowa State.
The reclamation project Grinch has been tasked with will likely take years to yield the results Oklahoma fans expect. If the Ohio native can wring substantially more takeaways from the Sooner defenders, they may not need to see huge jumps forward to propel the team to new heights.
Grinch believes in his system, all he needs is for his players to embrace his philosophy.
“It gives a singular purpose to every member of your defense on every down,” Grinch said. “Effort is the greatest equalizer in sports.”