Notebook: OU's versatility on display
There isn’t one logical person who would argue Oklahoma was better off not having Ronnie Perkins in the lineup for the first five games this season.
Not one. But on the flip side, it’s easy to see what the benefits were for the Sooners. It starts with the development and production of Isaiah Thomas.
Few could have predicted what a huge role he would have for this defense. Whether it’s at defensive end or defensive tackle. That versatility is an even bigger asset now that Perkins has returned and gives a new wrinkle to OU’s defense the rest of the way.
“I’ll start right there with Isaiah and what he has meant to us over these first six weeks,” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch during Tuesday’s Zoom meeting. “I continue to keep talking about him every week. It provides you with a little bit of flexibility there in terms of having Ronnie back.”
It was a battle for OU to keep Perkins engaged because you have to balance giving Perkins reps during the week when you knew he wasn’t going to play Saturday.
The staff did the best they could with the ultimate goal being that the second Perkins was given the go-ahead, it was time to unleash him again.
“The benefit for us is that we managed it as best as we could,” Grinch said. “When he was available, the second he was available, you went with him the minute you get that call, he was in the game on Saturday and, again, Coach Cain had him ready. He was ready. The idea now is we progress from there.”
Takeaway snowball effect?
No, the Sooners haven’t reached that two takeaway per game stat line Grinch has demanded. Eight in six games doesn’t cut it. But how about six in three games? OK, that’s closer, better.
The Sooners had a goose egg in that department at TCU, but earned three the game before vs. Texas and three more at Texas Tech.
It was Tre Norwood with the two interceptions to get things rolling in Lubbock. He gets the credit, for sure, but Grinch said that usually means 11 guys are working as one unit.
“When you watch the film, and one of the things we highlighted to our defensive front, is with tipped throws off the receiver, a lot of times it stems from pressure up front,” Grinch said. “A quarterback throwing the ball a click sooner than he anticipates, which means the receiver has to react to it a click sooner than he may have expected or how it was repped over the course of the week at practice.
“And then included in that is making sure where you’re supposed to be on that particular down. It’s funny how the ball has a tendency to find you in a negative way when you’re not supposed to be. And then making sure from an effort level you’re taking advantage of those things.”
All those boxes checked off, but then you still have to make the play. Really, that had become the story of Grinch’s defense in the first 17 games of his OU tenure.
Guys have done everything right, gotten in position and then just didn’t do the fun part. They didn’t get the interception or recover the fumble, didn’t get the takeaway.
“One of the things that has struck us in the past… is we haven’t come down with those balls,” Grinch said. “It’s been, ‘Oh shoot, how close we were to picking one off.’ There was another one in the game that was in our hands that we didn’t come down with.
“If you counted the dropped interceptions over the last year and a half, if only a percentage of those went in our direction the narrative would be a lot different.”
Be part of ‘the plan’
Head coach Lincoln Riley and Grinch are always quick to say that it’s an open competition for the starting spots every week.
Changes don’t occur too often, but Tech was another example of what that means. Cornerback Woodi Washington earned his first start, replacing Jaden Davis. Both got a good chunk of reps in the win, but it’s a sign of the quality practice competition spilling over into a game.
It’s about being in the plan.
“Who is in the plan? That’s the phrase of term we use… It’s something as time goes on, we’re going to see it at a number of different positions,” Grinch said. “The message is if you were a starter the week before, play at a high level, you can be a starter again and get your job back. Conversely, if you’re a two, and a rotational guy, please do not be satisfied about just getting reps on a Saturday.”
The plan is laid out. The No. 2s are going to see quite a bit of time, rotating in and out. The goal, though, is to keep striving for more. Washington has done that.
That’s a necessary component in what Grinch has been chasing since arriving. Not just depth, but championship quality depth. Earning one of the 11 starting spots needs to mean you did something special during the week.
“It should be a big deal to be on the No. 1 defense at Oklahoma,” Grinch said. “Something you have to fight for each and every week. It’s competition, healthy competition, and it’s something we’re trying to create.”