NORMAN — Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has extremely well-defined feelings about his players giving effort.
“If we’re not recognized for effort at the University of Oklahoma,” Grinch said Saturday, “then I’m a con man and they’re a fraud.”
“It’s not OK to not give effort.”
Like a good televangelist, Grinch has convinced the Sooners’ defense to reach down deep — deeper, even — and somehow find another level of giving. Not into their pockets, and not of worldly goods, but into and of themselves.
That was apparent throughout Saturday’s 55-16 victory over Texas Tech.
It was the No. 6-ranked Sooners’ 900th victory in history, making OU (4-0, 1-0 Big 12 Conference) the sixth major college program to achieve that. But it was the Oklahoma defense that was giving 900 percent as they simply demoralized the Red Raiders.
- In the second quarter, sophomore safety Delarrin Turner-Yell — criticized for inconsistent play during the Sooners’ non-conference schedule — chased down SaRodorick Thompson on a sure 60-yard touchdown run, cutting him down instead at the 2-yard line, and the OU defense stiffened to hold Tech to a field goal.
- In the fourth quarter, Red Raiders quarterback Jett Duffey got the edge on a scramble and seemed headed for a first down, but junior cornerback Tre Brown — criticized for early season dispirited tackling — sprinted across the field at top speed and persuaded Duffey to step out of bounds five yards short of the marker.
- And later in the fourth, Duffey scrambled away as senior defensive tackle Neville Gallimore was blocked off his path at the last second, but Gallimore kept chasing Duffey, and as Duffey cut across a defender, Gallimore slammed him from behind and dislodged the football.
OU had leads of 24-7, 48-16 and 55-16 when those plays happened, underscoring just how much the Sooner defense’s mindset has changed.
“I love the mentality we’re starting to develop there,” head coach Lincoln Riley said. “That was a great example of where it’s paying dividends. But we’ve got to do it every week. It’s never just there. If that’s who we are, we’ve got to be that all the time. If we’re not next week against Kansas, we’re a bunch of phonies.”
To be clear, this is a Texas Tech team that, one, isn’t very good, and two, came to Memorial Stadium without its starting quarterback. Alan Bowman injured his non-throwing shoulder in a 28-14 loss at Arizona two weeks ago, and the Red Raiders’ one dimension was gone.
Instead of turning to last year’s backup, Jett Duffey, new coach Matt Wells tried to shake things up and gave Rice transfer Jackson Tyner the start. Tyner got two series, got chased, looked scared and completed just 1-of-5 throws. By the time Duffey went into the game with 5:14 to go in the first quarter, the Sooners had a 14-0 lead.
So OU holding Tech to a measly 314 yards and 16 points on just 63 offensive plays is not that impressive in and of itself. This particular Red Raiders squad, with no Bowman, would have no success in their Big 12 Conference opener no matter who they were playing.
But the simple fact that Grinch has changed the way this team thinks about itself and its effort — we’re talking about a 180-degree flip here — bodes well for the future.
The one that stands out the most is Turner-Yell’s touchdown-saving pursuit in the second quarter. That actually kept points off the board.
“Yeah, we just gave up a tough play. We didn’t do a very good job on the (58-yard run),” Riley said. “We came out of our gap. But let’s fight our tail off. Let’s get him on the ground. And let’s stop ‘em. And we were pretty dominant on the next several plays, especially in the front.”
Moreover, that play will stand for the next 3 ½ months as an example of what can be accomplished with great effort.
“It’s just creating a standard,” said linebacker Kenneth Murray. “Just letting guys know that this is the standard, and demanding it out of guys, and if you don’t abide by the standard, then you’re not gonna play. Since Day 1, that’s been the standard with coach Grinch. Since Day 1, that’s been the standard with everybody on this coaching staff. Since Day 1, that’s been the standard with me, being a leader of this defense. Just getting guys to play with elite effort, going out there, flying around to the ball — and if you’re not gonna do that, you’re not gonna step on the field.”
Murray said discussions during the week in the film room and the meeting room include identifying when someone doesn’t give all-out effort — coaches label those plays a “loaf” — and dealing with it.
“Oh yeah. Definitely. Called out in front of everybody,” Murray said. “Our coaches do a tremendous job of holding us accountable to that. Holding everybody accountable to that. At the end of the day, the standard here is to be dominant and that’s not gonna change for nobody.”
“We demand it,” Grinch said. “There’s the negative side of it where we recognize from a behavior standpoint when the effort is not right. We’re pretty forthright in letting those guys know.
“If I’m going to stand up in front of them and in front of you and say it’s an effort-based defense and it’s all about defense and then all the sudden on a Saturday, it’s an option whether or not we give it, it’s a direct reflection of our inability to get it out of our guys.”
The Sooner defense still has holes, still has weaknesses. But effort is no longer one of them. In reality, that’s half the battle. But the bottom line is painfully simple: that’s sometimes what coaching is.
“It’s just a constant demand,” Grinch said. “Our Monday practice doesn’t look a whole lot different than a Saturday game. We don’t take any steps back in terms of tempo and those things. You’re one play away from being that average effort group.”
Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.