‘It’s not OK to be OK’: Alex Grinch says Sooners’ defense must rise out of mediocre performance
NORMAN — Alex Grinch and Thomas A. Harris might not exactly have seen eye to eye.
Harris, a psychiatrist, wrote the self-help book “I’m OK — You’re OK” more than 50 years ago.
Grinch, OU’s defensive coordinator, said his defense’s effort was OK in last week’s 40-35 season-opening win over Tulane, but that wasn’t close to the standard the Sooners need to be at the rest of the season, beginning with Saturday night’s home game against Western Carolina.
“It’s not OK to be OK here,” Grinch said on Tuesday, expressing that he was “disappointed” in the Sooners’ effort. “We played 31 guys, which I’d like to be proud of, but you don’t play 31 guys to get more rest. We play 31 guys to get your absolute best. I don’t think we got that across the board, which again, is a reflection of myself, in particular, and the defensive staff.”
There were plenty of players rotating in and out — eight different cornerbacks, seven interior defensive lineman and seven edge rushers/outside linebackers saw the field.
But oftentimes that defense, especially in the second half, was disjointed and struggling to get consistent stops.
The bright spot for the Sooners defensively was the second quarter, when OU had three takeaways to help build a 37-14 lead.
Before and after that, though, there were plenty of concerning signs for the defense that was expected to be even better than they were a year ago.
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Tulane scored quick touchdowns on each of its first two drives of the game.
After halftime, the Green Wave’s scoring was more methodical, with several long drives ending in scores.
Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said there were differing reasons for the two sets of struggles.
“We made some mental mistakes in the beginning of the game that I don’t think were lack of focus,” Riley said. “I think we were really juiced, really hyped to go play, and I think you saw some guys that just made some early mistakes that needed to settle in. I thought we stayed settled in and played pretty well the rest of the half.
“The second half, we lost our edge. You could just see it. Our effort was off. Our mentality was off. … We lost our edge and we turned into average pretty quickly, as did the entire football team.”
Those are not words the Sooners wanted to use to describe a defense that entered the season with the expectation they could be a reason why the Sooners would be a threat in the College Football Playoff instead of a reason why they couldn’t be successful there — or even make the CFP.
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“It’s definitely fixable and I think we’ve already moved past that and will definitely show up within the remainder of the season,” linebacker David Ugwoegbu said. “We didn’t play up to our standard. We have a very high standard that we set for ourselves. And when you’ve got such a high standard, that’s when you get disappointed. But if you set a low standard for yourself, you’re not ever gonna be upset about your performance or anything.”
This week, against an FCS opponent, slips in that standard aren’t likely to cost the Sooners much.
Moving forward, though, they could be an issue.
Against the Catamounts, the rotation figures to be deep once again. But while Grinch and Riley want to be able to use several players at each position, the number of players who see the field for the Sooners — with the game on the line — could be contracting soon.
“We’ll see how that evolves,” Riley said. “Part of it is that we have a lot of new pieces and you want to see what you have. You want to see what they’re doing and how they respond in game situations.
“Listen, we’re not gonna play 31 guys on defense every week. It will narrow. But we have proven over the years that we play our best when we play a high number of people, especially on the defensive side of the ball.”
Big 12 football power rankings: Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns take a big leap after Week 1 win
OU vs. Western Carolina
► KICKOFF: 6 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field in Norman (PPV)
Oklahoma Football: Stripe the Stadium, a LOT of defensive substitutions, AP Poll
Happy Tuesday, friends and fans!
After a surprisingly poor showing in Saturday’s season opener, the Oklahoma Sooners have fallen from No. 2 to No. 4 in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll.
Around the Big 12, the Iowa State Cyclones also fell two spots to No. 9, and the Texas Longhorns rose six places to No. 15 after a solid showing against a ranked Louisiana squad. Meanwhile, the TCU Horned Frogs just missed the cut as the team with the most votes outside the poll.
Fortunately for OU, this weekend’s contest against Western Carolina shouldn’t pose any further threat to its ranking. Rather, this is an opportunity for a team that absolutely needs to address the multitude of issues that nearly cost it in shocking fashion. Sure, beating WCU 60-0 wouldn’t necessarily mean everything is fixed considering the competition, but after what happened against Tulane, the soul-searching Sooners have to start somewhere. If not, that meeting with a struggling Nebraska squad on the 18th could loom large for all the wrong reasons.
Now onto today’s Hot Links! Gabe Brkic earns conference player of the week honors, Mark Andrews inks an extension with Baltimore, the Texans name their starting QB and more!
- Here’s your friendly reminder to wear the right shirt if you plan on attending this Saturday’s game against Western Carolina. The plan is to stripe the stadium, but this time the goal is to make it resemble the American Flag. Make sure you double-check where your seat is on your ticket so you can help the Sooners make this possible.
- On Monday, redshirt junior placekicker Gabe Brkic was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week after setting several program benchmarks in Oklahoma’s season opening win over the Tulane Green Wave.
- During his weekly presser appearance, third year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch revealed that a total of 31 players saw snaps on defense in the season opener. Considering the apparent discombobulated state of things on that side of the ball practically all game long, that staggeringly high number makes sense. Honestly, that’s just absurd.
Grinch on defensive performance: “We played 31 guys. We don’t play 31 guys to get you more rest, we play 31 guys to get your absolute best.”#Sooners
— Brandon Drumm (@BrandonDrumm247) September 7, 2021
- The Baltimore Ravens have signed former OU TE Mark Andrews to a four-year, $56 million contract extension. The 2017 Mackey Award winner and 2019 Pro Bowl selection has steadily proven himself as one of the most capable tight ends in the NFL today. Boomer!
- QB Jalen Hurts has been named one of six team captains for the Philadelphia Eagles going into the 2021 NFL regular season. Congratulations to the second year pro!
- In case you missed it, Allen Kenney took a closer look at OU’s near-loss to Tulane, and inspected why Lincoln Riley’s teams have shown a tendency to lose big leads in the second half of games.
- After originally announcing this season would be his last, UConn Huskies head coach Randy Edsall is officially out, effective immediately, after a failed second stint in Storrs.
- Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart recently stated that his team is undergoing a spike of COVID-19 cases from a number of players to a couple staff members. UGA is set to host UAB this Saturday.
- Alabama Crimson Tide starting outside linebacker Christopher Allen reportedly suffered a fracture in his foot in a win over the Miami Hurricanes this past weekend. The injury could potentially sideline the redshirt senior for the remainder of the season.
- The Houston Texans have named Tyrod Taylor, not Deshaun Watson, as the starting QB for the team’s Week One bout against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
- The San Francisco 49ers have signed veteran free agent CB Josh Norman to a one-year deal after he spent last season with the Buffalo Bills.
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Alex Grinch: ‘I was disappointed in our effort…It’s not OK to be OK here’
NORMAN, Okla. — We heard all summer about the strides Oklahoma’s defense had made. We did not see them in game one, at least not consistently.
The Sooners gave up 35 points and, because of that, had to hold on to win by five. However, Alex Grinch’s unit came up with the final stop in a do-or-die situation, or the outcome would have been different.
“I think as much as anything else, it’s just the ability to make one more play for each individual guy, to make one more play and make one more play,” Grinch said immediately afterwards. “And you say, ‘Well, it’s not that simple.’ But it was that simple for them, our opponent, which you’ve got to give them credit. I think that there were opportunities out there to get off the field, some unique kind of field position situations, and some of the shorter field would create four-down situations as opposed to getting off the field on third down, which can affect play calling and some of those things.
“And so we can obviously be better as play callers as well. Specifically, I’m talking about myself in that, to help the guys out. But it’s a 60-minute football game, and I’ve got to do a better job of getting the guys to play all 60.”
On Tuesday, Grinch further reviewed the performance and how to correct things moving forward. OUInsider.com brings all that discussion to you right here.
“Yeah, I think it’s a number of things. I think to that specific point in terms of the performance in the second half, is watching the scoreboards to dictate your performance is a slippery slope on every side of it, when the scoreboard’s in your favor, when it’s not in your favor. I certainly think the film would suggest we’re guilty of it, and our history suggests that we’re guilty of that at times, which isn’t a real proud moment for a coach to say that. But what’s the film show? Beyond that and including that would be execution wasn’t, again, what I believe we’re capable of doing. Again, right now it’s just my belief, because the film suggests that’s exactly who we are with a one-game evaluation. But I believe our execution should be better. The film suggests that things we’ve been repping for eight months we weren’t able to execute on Saturday. Again, that pains you as a coach to say. That’s not a player’s fault. That’s a coach’s fault. If I told them 1,000 times and they’re still not doing it, who’s that reflect poorly on, the player or the coach? And we take the approach that that’s the coach, and so we’ve got to do a better job that way.
“But to see some of those moments, things that [happened], specifically scoring plays—not only do you practice that that particular week, but again, you go back to spring football. You can show the players a rep or a similar rep that when the lights come on we’re not able to execute. And so [I’m] very disappointed in that. I haven’t talked in this room, I think, a lot about effort after the game being anything but at a very high standard. I was disappointed in our effort. I thought it was OK. It’s not OK to be OK here. And we played 31 guys, which I like to be proud of,; but we don’t play 31 guys so you get more rest. We play 31 guys so we can get your absolute best. And I don’t think we got that across the board, which, again, is a reflection of myself in particular and the defensive staff. But the film also shows some obviously positive things. They were too few and far between. Certainly, the final drive you’ve got to go win a football game and you better go win a football game, and those guys did, and I give them credit for that. And we sit here 1-0, and we’d feel a whole lot different if it was 0-1. So, obviously clearly there’s a lot of work to do, and that’s the long answer right now.”
“I don’t believe so. I think the film would suggest that fatigue sets in a lot more than they rally their arms around each other and say, ‘We’re out here together.’ The film suggests that the fatigue sets in very quickly, especially in an environment like we had on Saturday. You know, I’m not saying we’re going to play 31 guys every week. They’ve got to earn the right to do that. I thought in that particular game, under those particular circumstances week one, it was the appropriate thing to do. Certainly, the results would maybe tell otherwise. So, believe me, we’re looking at that. I don’t want to defend a stance when the film suggests that that’s a very appropriate question to ask. But I think it’s a little bit different defensively than it is on offense, I think when you’re switching quarterbacks every play or the center every play and something like that. I think defensively guys making communications and those things, there weren’t a whole lot of issues communication wise.
“It still comes down to executing, which comes down to if I’m the strong safety, I better be the strong safety; if I’m playing defensive tackle, the expectation is the best defensive tackle in the United States of America on that play. And those two positions better have nothing to do with each other in terms of whether I perform my particular responsibility, regardless of who the three-technique is on the boundary corner. But that’s something that always if it’s not specific to continuity, then it’s specific to something else in terms of rotating. So, believe me, you don’t leave that game and trumpet playing 31 guys, because the results don’t show that maybe that was in our best interest.”
“Yeah, I think [he was] one of the bright spots. I really do. I mean, you get so wrapped up in obviously the negatives, which is the responsible thing to do, but first college football game I think he played extremely well. One-handed catch on him the first play of the game, which that’s what catches should look like. It should have to be a perfect throw, outside shoulder, one-handed catch. It shouldn’t be easy at the catch point. But overall, I thought he tackled well. He’d like to have that interception. But just to see a DB go attack the football, which I wish I would have saw more of over the course of the day as a young guy in the program. I’ve seen a lot of guys play their first college snaps and look a whole lot less comfortable and less prepared than what Billy was. So, I was pleased with his first performance.”
“Yeah, in every individual case, you wish there was just one broad stroke and say it was this. But certainly that happens. You wish sometimes you could show the world Tuesday’s practice or show them Wednesday’s practice and say, ‘See, this is what we are.’ And it doesn’t work like that. It’s game day is the only tool [to evaluate] that the world gets to see you perform at as individual guys, and obviously us collectively. So, it is possible. I wish it wasn’t. Now, on the flip side is when you don’t execute something in practice, it sure is fun all of the sudden when you get an interception in the game on similar plays. And so that’s why you practice. I will say this: A lot of the things we saw on Saturday, we saw last week in practice, both on the positive side and negative side. And that’s how this thing works. You believe in preparation or you don’t. But you’ve got to look at that, too, and you say why is that? Why is it? Is it because the lights came on? Is it because you’re fatigued? Is it because you didn’t train through fatigue on Tuesdays and Wednesdays that all of the sudden you gave into the fatigue maybe on Saturday? Or, did you simply go out there and lose focus or are you just poorly coached? And so all those things we’ve got to analyze.”
“I think there were bright spots. I think if you’re not careful and you say, ‘Oh, look how close we were,’ and champion that as saying next time we’ll have eight sacks. Again, the product on the field says we had four sacks, which was good, and I think we were close several other times. There are also 11 other guys working in unison to make them hold the ball for one click longer, to allow some of those things so it’s not just those guys up front [and] it’s the guys on the back end. You have sometimes the ball comes out fast, depending on what offenses do and some of those things. You saw quite a bit of that. You saw a quarterback play very tough, stand in the pocket and was willing to take hits, which you don’t always see. Which, give them, those guys credit.
“But no, I thought certainly at times [they were good]. I struggle sometimes to look at the close calls and say, ‘Look how great that is, how close we are.’ That is a slippery slope to go down. But I expect more from our defensive front. I do, specifically from a strain standpoint. Did you not get home because the ball came out quickly, or is there something that you can do from a physical standpoint, from an effort standpoint to get yourself there a click sooner? And we’re going to look at it through that lens right now. Again, [it’s] just one evaluation so far this year.”
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“Yeah, I thought overall it wasn’t to the standard that we expect to play. It wasn’t to the standard a lot of those guys have played in the past. I think, in fairness to them, that’s the only word to describe it. I predict that it’s the outlier. I think they’re a well-coached unit. I think, as I told the guys yesterday, some of these guys that we have frustrations with after game one we’ve hugged after championships, you know, big time ball games and played at a high level, borderline elite level. To see the same guys perform the way they did last Saturday is something that pains you as a coach. So, no, I expect a lot more from them. And Shane Whitter’s status in this program has to get a whole lot better. He’s got to be more accountable, both on and off the football field.”
“Yeah, I would love to say we’re surprised by everything they did, and that’s not the reality of it. You know, certainly I thought you’ve got to give them credit from any execution standpoint. There are some things [they did]. What offenses so often do is they put you in conflict of a run-pass, some jet sweeps, some unbalanced looks. But ultimately it came down to execution, and they did a better job of that in some of those scenarios, specifically finding ways to score points in the red zone, our inability to respond to sudden change situations. I think there were three. When you talk about making teams count in threes, we didn’t do that. So, no, it’s something you always analyze. And that’s the last thing you want to do as a coach, is to ever put your guys in a situation where you feel like you’re unsound and you didn’t give them an opportunity to be successful. So, you’re always looking at that. But, in the end, I think the kids would trumpet it as well that it really just came down to execution.”
Oklahoma football: Sooners drop to 4th in Week 2 AP, Coaches polls
A win is a win, as any college football coach will tell you, but the former No. 2 Oklahoma football team found out that a win can also cost you if you underperform in the process.
Tulane Green Wave
The Sooners dropped down two spots, to No. 4, in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 and the Coaches Poll after an up-and-down performance in barely holding off Tulane with a five-point, 40-35 victory at home in their season opener.
Oklahoma was a heavy favorite (-26.5) going into the game with Tulane and played like it for most of the opening half after a shaky start in the opening minutes. The Sooners nearly squandered a 23-point halftime advantage, surviving a serious scare late with Tulane in possession of the ball near midfield and just over two minutes to go in the game.
A loss likely would have dropped the Sooners out of the top 10, but it is obvious the voters in both major national polls are affording Oklahoma the benefit of the doubt after just one game.
Alabama, with a convincing 31-point victory over then-No. 14 Miami (Florida) in the AP poll, was the clear choice to retain its preseason No. 1 ranking. The Crimson Tide garnered all but four of the 63 first-place votes in the AP Top 25 and 64 of the 65 first-place votes in the Coaches Poll.
The top six positions in both polls were identical in Week 2. Georgia’s win over Clemson moved the Bulldogs up to No. 2, from No. 5, followed by Ohio State, OU, Texas A&M and Clemson.
You can check out the rest of this week’s rankings in both polls by clicking here.
Texas moved up to No. 15 in both the AP and Coaches polls this week, while Iowa State, projected to be Oklahoma’s biggest challenger in the Big 12 race this season, dropped a couple of spots (to No. 9 in the AP poll and No. 10 in the Coaches Poll). Oklahoma State broke into the top 25 this week at No. 23 in the Coaches Poll.
The Athletic did a 1-130 ranking of FBS teams after Week 1 of the season. Oklahoma is No. 5 in that ranking behind No. 1 Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson. The Sooners are No. 4 in the ESPN College Football Power Index this week, down one spot.