OU defense searching for answers
The first half of Saturday worked out as well as it could have for Oklahoma. Although the Sooners have stressed worrying about what only they can control, they got a little help from across the nation in their playoff bid.
But the playoff is way too far in the distance after another uneven defensive performance that once again brings more questions than answer.
The good thing? At least this time it’s following a victory. Ninth-ranked OU nearly blew a 21-point fourth quarter lead but survived to hang on 42-41 against visiting Iowa State on Saturday night.
Cornerback Parnell Motley intercepted Brock Purdy on Iowa State’s potential game-winning two-point conversion with 24 seconds left to, in essence, save the Sooners season.
“Some real embarrassing stretches of football that fell back on my shoulders,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “Defensively, inability to tackle and falling down in coverage. Things that can’t happen, shouldn’t happen. So I’ve got to be a lot better moving forward for us to do anything we want to do as a football team.”
Nobody was claiming the Sooners (8-1 overall, 5-1 Big 12) had everything figured out, but the first half was about as well as the team can perform. Offense, defense, rolling into the break at 35-14.
Then the cracks started to happen. The turnovers on offense. The lack of takeaways defensively. Missed assignments. Mental errors. And everything that doomed OU two weeks ago at Kansas State came right back into focus. Memories of ISU’s historic upset at Owen Field two years ago a clear reminder the Cyclones weren’t going to go away.
From up 42-21 entering the fourth quarter to seeing the Cyclones dominate the final 15 minutes. ISU held a 10:19-4:41 time of possession advantage. ISU had 25 plays for 242 yards compared to OU’s 10 for 25 and an interception.
Only Motley was there to keep this from being one catastrophic collapse.
“Unacceptable. To be honest, in those moments, me personally, just trying to make a play,” linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “Obviously trying to get some energy sparked and obviously that didn't happen and things went the way the they did and at the end of the day that is unacceptable. To me, disappointed. Obviously happy to get a win, but definitely not the performance that we want.”
The question is obvious. The answer – eh, not so much. What happened to the OU defense of the first seven games? What happened to getting nine sacks against Texas in the Red River Showdown? How do you explain the last two games, and how do you get back to that initial standard?
It has become almost commonplace at OU lately where wins haven’t felt like wins. The most glaring example was Army last season, but Saturday ranks right up there.
Purdy accounted for six total touchdowns, and ISU racked up 477 yards of offense. The aggressive, disruptive, straining to the ball defense has been nowhere to be found.
“Do we think our performance to a certain point will be enough to carry us through the course of a game?” asked Grinch. “Do we think the offense is going to take the reins and carry us home and our performance doesn’t matter?
“The reality is in defensive football the tackle has to be made every single snap regardless of the scoreboard, so it never does get easy. We had a good week of practice but it doesn’t matter if you don’t tackle on Saturday. It doesn’t freaking matter.”
For all the talk about nothing matters until the national championship mentality a couple of games ago, reality has set in. There’s way too much work to be done to be worrying about college football playoff rankings every Tuesday night.
“I'm not gonna spend time stressing, worrying, doing all the highs and lows, emotional battles like a lot of people do,” nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles said. “I'm not doing that. I'm gonna finish this Iowa State film, we're gonna watch that film, break that down, get the critiques. Coach Grinch is gonna coach me on the thing that I had mistakes on today, and get to Baylor.”