OU football: Now comes the real test for Alex Grinch and the Sooner defense — Texas
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Neville Gallimore walked off the field toward the locker room pumping his fist up and down over his head.
He wasn’t the only Oklahoma defender who looked pleased Saturday afternoon. There were smiles. High fives. Nothing crazy, but as Sooner fans showered their victors with cheers, the vibe from everyone associated with the defense was evident.
This was another good day.
OU defeated Kansas 45-20, and if not for a couple late Jayhawk scores against reserve-heavy lineups, the Sooner domination would’ve been even more pronounced.
“You feel a lot of progress and excitement about what we’re doing,” Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said of the defense. “I love how we’re flying to the football, how we’re hitting. The fun thing is, we’re still so early in this deal.”
The first big test of this Alex Grinch-led defense comes next week.
Yes, with sweat from Saturday's win at Kansas not yet dry, talk turned to Texas. Even though the Longhorns had some issues Saturday against West Virginia, the challenge Texas will present for OU will still be significant. A quarterback who can wing it and run it. Receivers who are talented and fast. Tailbacks who can cause problems. An offensive line that is physical.
OU hasn’t faced any offense as complete as Texas. Houston quarterback D’Eriq King is good. UCLA had some talented pass-catchers. Kansas tailback Pooka Williams is legit. But none of those teams had even difference makers to really stretch the Sooners.
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Texas will have all the best parts of those teams and then some.
Despite being a newcomer to this rivalry, Grinch is understands what awaits.
“We know it’s Game 6,” he said of the spot the Red River Rivalry occupies on the schedule, “but you can’t go down that road and say it’s just Game 6. It’s not. I know enough about (the rivalry) to suggest that.”
But even with the understanding that the biggest game of the season is coming, it sure feels like Grinch and his defense have been building toward this test. Look at the big picture, and there’s not much more you could ask. Oh, I suppose you could be stingy and demand shutouts. Play like the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers’ Steel Curtain defense. Be like the 1985 Chicago Bears’ Monsters of the Midway bunch. But considering where the defense started, the progress has been magnificent.
Saturday was the fourth consecutive game the Sooner defense held an opponent to 20 points or less. That kind of streak these past couple seasons would’ve been manna from heaven.
Truth be told, though, such a single-season streak has not happened since 2006. There have been good defenses in the dozen seasons since then, and not one of them has held four consecutive opponents to less than three touchdowns.
“You can see game in and game out how much we’ve improved,” Sooner safety Delarrin Turner-Yell said. “I feel like we’ve taken a step every week.”
That was most evident Saturday with the defensive line. That bunch drew Riley’s ire for its play against Texas Tech last week. The coach didn’t like its activity or its energy. It just wasn’t as disruptive as Riley felt it needed to be.
“I thought they were much more active,” Riley said. “I thought we had bodies in the backfield. We controlled the gaps in the run game much better.”
That helped the Sooners hold Williams and the Jayhawks to only 130 rushing yards.
The OU defense also had seven tackles for loss, including three sacks.
“I feel like we got out there and made our presence felt on the field,” said Sooner defense end Ronnie Perkins, who had two tackles for loss, including one of the sacks.
Gallimore said, “I feel like we definitely took some steps. Like I always say, there’s still always an opportunity to make more plays, but I feel like guys … had the right mindset and were prepared.”
Who knows what all this will mean next Saturday at the Cotton Bowl?
Will the Sooners contain Sam Ehlinger? Will they keep tabs on Devin Duvernay and Malcolm Epps? Will they corral Roschon Johnson and Keaontay Ingram?
I don’t know. Nothing ever seems sure in this rivalry. And yet, after five games, here’s what seems certain — the OU defense heads to Dallas in a much better place with a much better chance against Texas than it's had been in years.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.