OU football: Iowa State loss shows that Alex Grinch and the Sooners' defense have a tall task awaiting them
AMES, Iowa — Pat Fields seemed stunned as he struggled to explain OU’s latest disappointment, a 37-30 loss to Iowa State on Saturday night.
“At the end of the day, it’s difficult,” Fields said, talking about either playing safety, playing quality defense in the Big 12, or dealing with a second-consecutive loss or all of the above. “You think about how much you invest into this game — playing through a pandemic, working out with masks on being at school from six in the morning to eight at night.
“Sometimes you feel like you love the game so much, but the game don’t love you back.”
All Sooners had rough nights at Jack Trice Stadium, but the defensive backs struggled the most.
Fields, Brendan Radley-Hiles and Tre Brown have started a combined 70 games over the last three years, playing in 97.
But against the Cyclones, the trio all stood out for the problems they exposed in OU’s defense.
Fields dropped a pair of potential interceptions, either of which could’ve helped to turn the tide the Sooners’ way. He was also flagged for holding.
Radley-Hiles was flagged twice for pass interference and once for a personal foul. He also missed several tackles.
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Brown was called for a pass interference and a holding.
All of Oklahoma defense’s penalties in the game were called against defensive backs and Fields said the explanation was simple, especially going against Cyclones’ big tight end Charlie Kolar, a Norman native.
“Playing DB, there really isn’t an alternative,” Fields said of the rash of penalties. “You’re guarding guys who are 6-5, 6-6. If we’re not physical, it’s probably going to be a catch. Sometimes it just comes with the game. You’ve got to chalk it up to the game. That’s part of playing defensive back.”
Not every team the Sooners face the rest of the way have a player like Kolar, but it was still a startling admission.
Tackling can be refined. Positioning can be worked on. Players aren’t going to grow in size during the season.
Fields is the tallest of OU’s starting defensive backfield at 5-foot-11, Brown is 5-foot-10 and Radley-Hiles even an inch shorter. The other two starting DBs are 5-10.
Since Alex Grinch came aboard as defensive coordinator before the 2019 season, the Sooners have recruited bigger defensive backs, but none of them have seen much of the field so far.
Junior college transfer Justin Harrington is 6-foot-3, freshman cornerback Joshua Eaton and freshman safety Bryson Washington are each 6-2.
“We have some depth,” Grinch said. “We’ll continue to explore that depth, no question.”
Harrington is hurt, but Washington has yet to make an appearance for OU and Eaton hasn’t played since the season opener against Missouri State.
Both let their frustration percolate onto social media after the game when Washington posted “Free BWash and JEaton” on Twitter after the game, tagging Eaton’s account.
Washington later deleted the tweet, but it showed the toll losing and struggled can take on a group.
“Disappointed … especially with guys who we have seen make those plays in the past,” Grinch said. “Whether that’s experience guys from a year ago or guys as you go through call camp, first couple of games. I think it’s just the consistency aspect of things that we’re not finding right now.”