OU football: How the Sooners' defense turned near-misses into takeaways in Bedlam rout
NORMAN — When Alex Grinch gathers his OU defense every Thursday, one of the things on the agenda is a video of some of the takeaways by NFL defenses from the week before.
“Not to inspire them to go get it — it’s not watch as fans. It’s not a highlight,” Grinch said.
Instead, it’s a study.
“It’s literally diagnosing — how do these things get done? What’s the common denominator?” Grinch said. “It’s strain. It’s obviously guys doing their job.”
About seven minutes into Saturday’s 41-13 Bedlam rout, Grinch saw on a single play — from a single player — the epitome of everything he’s preached to his defense about turnovers.
David Ugwoegbu coming off the edge from his middle linebacker spot, leapt into the air first to bat Spencer Sanders’ pass into the air and then dove frantically to grab the ball just before it hit the grass at Owen Field.
“At first when I tipped it, I thought it was behind me and almost did a full 180,” Ugwoegbu said. “Then I say the ball out of the corner of my eye.”
The play was reviewed and though it wasn’t confirmed, there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn it and Grinch’s defense gave the ball back to Lincoln Riley’s offense.
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“When I dove on it, I knew for a fact it wasn’t going to get overturned. My hands are sure,” Ugwoegbu said.
Riley called the play “unbelievable.”
While it was the only turnover the Sooners forced — they now have forced nine in the last five games — it was one of plenty of big plays OU made defensively throughout.
They brought pressure, as evidenced by a pair of first-quarter sacks by Ronnie Perkins. They covered well, as evidenced by holding Cowboys star Tylan Wallace to just four catches on 10 targets, and they came up with a big turnover, as shown by Ugwoegbu’s effort on that early play. They also played to the end, holding the Cowboys to four punts in the second half before coming up with a fourth-down stop on OSU’s final drive.
It was as complete of a defensive performance as the Sooners have had in quite awhile.
OU’s defense has become known for strong defensive line play this season, but there was much more to this one.
“When you’re getting pressure on guys, you’re hitting guys, that’s all a part of it, too,” Riley said. “But we certainly held our own on the back end.”
Grinch spent much of the first season and a half as OU’s defensive coordinator preaching the importance of turnovers and “straining to the ball.”
Not that the NFL film breakdown will stop, but Grinch can now point to his own players, as Ugwoegbu and others showed Saturday, as examples.
Early in the season, most notably in losses to Kansas State and Iowa State, the Sooners’ defense had plenty of “almosts.” Almost getting to the quarterbacks. Almost recovering a fumble. Almost making a tackle. Almost intercepting a pass.
Now, those almosts are turning into completed plays.
“What you saw with that play was strain,” Grinch said. “You want to look up the definition of it, watch that play. (It) is an unwillingness to say, ‘Maybe I can get a finger on it or something like that,’ ‘I wish it was a little easier for me.’ You see a guy just straining and again, what the neat thing is now we’re starting to see what the impact is.”
The Sooners allowed only 246 yards on total offense, the fewest by the Cowboys in Bedman since 2009.
“We had the eyes of college football on us with this game,” Ugwoegbu said. “We knew we had to show up and show out.”