OU football: Robert Barnes at safety for now, says Sooners DC Alex Grinch
Robert Barnes staying at safety — for now
It would’ve seemed unlikely that Robert Barnes would have much impact on the Big 12 Championship Game a few weeks ago.
Barnes had played in all but two games but was almost exclusively a special teams player this season after moving from safety to linebacker. But the secondary was hit hard by COVID-19 protocols in late November/early December, necessitating that not only would Barnes need to move back to safety, but that he’d make his first start since the Orange Bowl after the 2018 season.
Barnes performed well in the win over Baylor, and with Iowa State’s big, physical receivers and tight ends, the 6-foot-2 senior could play an important role in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship Game (11 a.m., ABC).
Sooners defensive coordinator Alex Grinch confirmed Wednesday that Barnes would remain at safety, but that it wasn’t as simple as matching up Barnes on tight end Charlie Kolar.
“What you can’t do in the this particular (case) … is say, ‘OK, this is exactly where this individual is going to be and we are going to put this individual on him,” Grinch said. “It’s just too multiple that way with shifts and motions and size across the board and, oh by the way, the best tailback in the country this year and probably the best offensive line.
“So that becomes a very difficult challenge for us, but he’ll be one of those individuals that will rotate in.”
Thomas: Look in the mirror helped Sooners bounce back
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After losing 37-30 at Iowa State on Oct. 3, OU was 0-2 in the Big 12 for the first time since the John Blake era.
The Sooners seemed unlikely to get close to making the Big 12 title game, let alone be in the top 10 with an outside shot, however unlikely, at the College Football Playoff.
But that’s where OU is entering this weekend, and defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas says the way the Sooners came together after that loss to the Cyclones is the reason why.
“I think togetherness was a big one (reason),” Thomas said. “Not putting the blame on anyone else. In fact, looking yourself in the mirror, saying what could you have done better?
“It stood out to be as a team that we weren’t together as a defense in particular toward the beginning of the season because of how we finished games. We’d point the finger. Not particularly point the finger but more so not take ownership in what I could’ve done better.”
After being outscored 31-10 combined in the fourth quarter of losses to Kansas State and Iowa State, and being outscored 66-23 combined in the final quarter of their first five Big 12 games this season, the Sooners have turned things around recently. In their last three games, the Sooners have outscored opponents 45-13 in the fourth.
Football signees could play multiple sports at OU
Lincoln Riley’s football team wasn’t the only Sooners squad that added some talent Wednesday.
The Sooners’ men’s basketball and baseball teams figure to benefit too.
Five-star wide receiver Mario Williams is also a standout baseball player.
Riley said the Sooners’ success with two-sport athletes, most notably with Kyler Murray, helped both with Williams’ recruitment and also with setting up a plan that will allow him to play both.
“Going through that with Kyler, having to coordinate, learn, learn from our mistakes the first year, learning how to do it better, that was a great thing,” Riley said. “It really brought us together.
“Anybody that’s got aspirations, they can look at OU and say, not only do I see that they’ll give me that opportunity, but two, I can see that it can be done on a high level.”
Defensive end signee Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge was originally committed to Washington State as a basketball player, and told The Oklahoman this week that he planned on playing basketball as long as his body allowed it after his first season.
DB class stands out
On paper, the Sooners signed their best secondary class in years with cornerbacks Latrell McCutchin and Damon Harmon, both four-star prospects according to Rivals, Choctaw safety Jordan Mukes, plus Billy Bowman, a four-star athlete who could play either receiver or defensive back at OU.
“We thought he was one of the most versatile DBs that we were able to see across the country, and was an immediate Day One target for us,” Riley said of Harmon.
Riley said McCutchin was a “huge get,” especially given his location in Austin as one of the top cornerbacks in the country.
Bowman, who committed in November, might be the most intriguing player in the class.
“Don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more dynamic athlete in the country this year than Billy,” Riley said. “A guy that does so many things as well as any high school player I’ve seen in a long time.
“I don’t have the first clue where he’s going to play for us, but it’s going to be somewhere, and it wouldn’t shock me if he doesn’t end up having a role for us on both sides of the football.”
Ryan Aber, Staff writer