OU football: How Alex Grinch's unusual week didn't slow down Sooners' defense vs. Baylor
NORMAN — Alex Grinch’s disembodied voice boomed at practice last week.
Grinch wasn’t quite The Great and Powerful Oz, running the Sooners’ defense from behind a curtain, but instead was calling the shots and making corrections when needed — from behind his computer.
“Yelled at the computer screen a lot,” Grinch said.
The OU defensive coordinator was back on the sidelines Saturday, his group carrying the Sooners to a 27-14 win over Baylor to clinch a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.
It was an unusual end to an unusual week for OU.
A false positive COVID-19 test Monday kept Grinch off the field until Thursday. Grinch wasn’t the only assistant coach who missed significant time, leading to the return of Bob Stoops to help coach the Sooners for a big chunk of the week.
Grinch had to rely on technology — a Zoom connection and a loudspeaker helped him keep tabs on practice and communicate with his players.
“He was still able to yell at us if we were doing bad or congratulate us if we were doing good,” said Robert Barnes, who early in the week moved from linebacker back to his original position of safety because of the rash of defensive backs affected by coronavirus protocols.
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Grinch was encouraged by what he saw on the screen, even with one of his best pass rushers (linebacker Nik Bonitto) out, three regular starters in the secondary (Pat Fields, Brendan Radley-Hiles and Woodi Washington) also missing, and another (Tre Norwood) held out of practice much of the week,
“The nice thing is when you’re watching that thing on Zoom over the course of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, watching practice and saying, ‘That’s the defense at Oklahoma and I coach these guys,” Grinch said. “And I’m not there and it still looks like the defense at Oklahoma and so was thrilled with that.
“You don’t want to be in that situation (sitting out), but in any event, very unique week and very unique game to cap this thing off.”
While the offense has often dragged the defense along during the Lincoln Riley era, the defense dominated Saturday’s game.
The offense put up their fewest yards (269) in the Lincoln Riley era, struggling to move the ball with any kind of consistency, especially on the ground.
But the defense more than picked up the slack, holding the Bears to 288 yards, the third consecutive game where Grinch’s defense has held an opponent below 300 yards.
The last time the Sooners accomplished that feat? A three-game stretch early in the 2011 season, Brent Venables’ last as defensive coordinator.
OU hadn’t held three consecutive Big 12 opponents below 300 yards of total offense since they did it twice during the 2006 season.
Baylor managed just 25 rushing yards, the fewest by an OU opponent since 2014 against Kansas and the least for the Bears since the Cotton Bowl after the 2014 season.
The Sooners forced multiple turnovers for the third time in four games and kept Bears’ quarterback Charlie Brewer scrambling around all night trying to avoid being taken down for a loss.
While Riley said he was to blame for the lack of production on that side, he heaped praise on Grinch and the defensive coaches.
“Just can’t say enough about the effort,” Riley said. “Tremendous job by our coaches. Our staff, our players, everybody defensively did just a phenomenal job.”
In the final minute, when redshirt junior defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas recorded his final sack — one of 2.5 in the game for him — Thomas raised his hands triumphantly
“It’s definitely been a rollercoaster, trying to figure out who’s playing, who’s not with all this COVID going on,” lineman Isaiah Thomas said. “We’re finding ways to work around it and have players step up.
“We’re well-coached and disciplined enough to stay focused.”
Ryan Aber covers OU athletics, especially football. You can send your story ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ryaber. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.