OU football: Turnover problem grows for Alex Grinch and Sooners' defense
NORMAN — Alex Grinch made it clear immediately upon his January 2019 arrival in Norman that turnovers would be a focus for OU’s defense.
“Takeaways equal victory,” Grinch said in his introductory press conference, laying out his formula — two takeaways per game equals success. “It controls possessions, yes. It controls points.”
Grinch said the focus on takeaways gave his defense a “singular purpose.”
It was welcome news to the ears of Sooners fans who had just witnessed a defense that forced just 11 turnovers, the lowest total an OU defense had posted in its long history. Their ineptness not only at that but in other areas led to an overhaul of the Sooners’ defense that included Mike Stoops being fired and Grinch being brought in from Ohio State.
But in the 16 games since Grinch took over, the Sooners have forced just 12 turnovers.
They were once again without one in Saturday’s stunning 38-35 loss to Kansas State and the sample size keeps growing from small and meaningless early last season when the turnovers first failed to materialize to larger and more meaningful.
The lack of turnovers was especially stark in a game where the offense gave the ball up four times and failed to convert a short fourth-down conversion and special teams gave up a blocked punt.
“It’s continued to be an extra-credit assignment for us,” Grinch said after the loss when asked about the lack of turnovers. “I wish I had the answer. Obviously if I did, they’d get done. At this point, we’ve been together for over a year. There’s no one else to blame but me for that. I’m missing on it.”
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Grinch said he’d be reevaluating his approach, which has included constant emphasis on reaching that magic number of turnovers and footballs on stands in each defensive meeting room so players could emulate stripping the ball as they entered and exited.
“A fourth-quarter game feels awfully, awfully long to us to play at some sort of standard for 60 minutes,” Grinch said.
“I bring that up because I think takeaways are obviously a huge element to that. If you’re taking the field just hoping that enough plays are being made to get you off the field … maybe that mindset contributes to the lack of those plays being made. They win you ball games, they lose you ball games obviously, and I’m not getting the job done.”
Sooners coach Lincoln Riley was searching for an answer to fix the turnover problem as well.
“Turnovers come from physical and aggressive plays, guys being playmakers,” Lincoln Riley said. “It’s being emphasized like crazy. Doesn’t mean we’re saying we’re doing everything right as coaches but at the same time, guys have got to go out there and make and finish plays too. Certainly it’s gotta get better.”
Against the Wildcats, the Sooners didn’t even have many obvious chances at takeaways. Skylar Thompson didn’t throw into traffic often and the only Wildcats fumble wasn’t one that was forced, and Kansas State recovered that.
“We’ll get TFLs (tackles for loss) and all that and we’ll get a lot of negative plays and we’ll hit guys in the backfield but those TFLs can turn into fumbles. Those sacks can turn into strip sacks,” safety Pat Fields said. “We’ve got to create more turnovers like that. … They didn’t really put the ball in the air too much but we’ve still got to find a way to put our hands on balls and come up (with them).”