OU football: Alex Grinch trying to solve Oklahoma’s defensive consistency issues

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma safety Pat Fields tries to make a tackle during the Sooners' game against Iowa State on Saturday at Owen Field.

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch isn’t the only one bothered by the fluid play that has nearly caused the Sooners to lose two straight games.

“I wake up pissed off [and] go to bed uneasy,” OU linebacker Kenneth Murray said, “because our side of the ball didn’t play to our standard.”

OU’s 42-41 victory over Iowa State on Saturday kept its College Football Playoff and Big 12 championship goals intact. There was relief in that.

But the ninth-ranked Sooners are aware something’s not right, as a gap has formed between OU’s best defensive performances and what’s happened over the past three weeks.

Saturday wasn’t the redemptive game OU’s defense needed after losing to Kansas State. Iowa State was 23 yards shy of 500 yards and became the second team to total 40 or more points on the Sooners this season.

“Some real embarrassing stretches of football that fell back on my shoulders,” Grinch said. “Defensively, inability to tackle and falling down in coverage. Things that can’t happen, shouldn’t happen.”

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger was sacked nine times by Sooner defenders in the teams’ October meeting. OU tallied 15 tackles for loss that day.

The Sooners have recorded one sack the past two games, including none against the Cyclones. Brock Purdy was officially hurried six times, but still threw for 282 yards and five touchdowns, including one that nearly toppled OU with 24 seconds remaining.

“For the most part we made him move around quite a bit,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “I’m probably going to be disappointed going back from watching it of how many times we actually got him on the ground because we had a chance for some game changing sacks and some big plays back there that we didn't get him on the ground.”

That was a trend across the defense. Delarrin Turner-Yell was benched for Justin Broiles at one point after badly missing a tackle.

Grinch and Riley agreed OU tackled poorly, which wasn’t an issue before three weeks ago. The “Speed D” Grinch installed was aggressive as advertised early in the year, but hasn’t lived up to that billing lately.

“We seemed at times frustrated that we wouldn’t need it on that particular play to need a tackle, which is really alarming to be a Division I football player at the University of Oklahoma and you’re not sure that you feel like making the tackle in that moment, so that’s something we’ve got to assess,” Grinch said. “Are we playing the right guys as coaches? Are we playing guys too many snaps and some of those things? A tackle has to be made no matter what’s on the scoreboard.”

Parnell Motley’s interception on Iowa State’s two-point conversion attempt saved the Sooners’ season as he wrestled the ball away from La’Michael Pettway.

It was a gritty, effort-based play. Grinch is trying to understand where that approach is across all four quarters.

OU held Iowa State to 14 first-half points, but let its guard down as the Cyclones scored 20 in the final quarter to nearly steal its second consecutive victory at Owen Field.

“Do we think our performance to a certain point will be enough to carry us through the course of a game. Do we think the offense is going to take the reins and carry us home and our performance doesn’t matter?” Grinch said. “We had a good week of practice but it doesn’t matter if you don’t tackle on Saturday. It doesn’t freaking matter … Whatever it is it continues to be a frustrating deal for us because you’re not seeing the same urgency, intensity, energy and obviously execution for four quarters, so we’ve got to do a better job as coaches.”

OU at Baylor

When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Place: McLane Stadium | Waco, Texas

Records: AP No. 10/Coaches No. 8 OU (8-1, 5-1 Big 12); No. 12/No. 10 Baylor (9-0, 6-0)

Line: OU (-9.5)

TV: ABC

Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7

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