OU football: Lincoln Riley balancing expectation with reality regarding Oklahoma's defense 

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch talks to the media Aug. 2 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Alex Grinch sets his alarm clock earlier than normal on game weeks. He wakes up a little earlier, too. Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator says this process thrills him.

OU coach Lincoln Riley worked on a full tank of energy Monday as well for his first weekly regular-season press conference. Excitement comes easy with the opener days away.

But Riley preached the benefit of being even-keel.

He and Grinch are trying to revive the Sooners’ defensive culture, and players are excited to unveil the team’s “Speed D” that was installed in the spring.

“I expect us to play well,” Riley said, “but I also know to build this thing the way we want to build it, it's going to be a process.”

Riley isn’t tempering expectations, but won’t allow anyone to get carried away for better or worse following No. 4-ranked OU’s game against Houston on Sunday (6:30 p.m., ABC). He compared his own debut in 2015 to the one Grinch faces.

OU’s first offenses under Riley slowly improved until eventually averaging 530 yards and 43.5 points per game.

“We weren't very good there in the beginning,” Riley said. “I’m not saying that's where we're going to be right now [defensively]. I think we have plenty capability to be pretty good right now, but it's a process. When it's Year 1, it's going to be about consistent improvement.”

Grinch is a little tougher on himself.

His scheme is supported by gaining turnovers, and people listened in January when he arrived offering this fact: 24 turnovers per season equated to at least nine victories. Though he admits “to lead the country and be in the 30s … that’s hard. There’s no magic answer for how that gets done.”

Grinch still has high expectations for OU’s season opener. Some are private and some are right out in the open.

The Sooners want to net at least two turnovers against Houston. If they don’t?

“Extremely disappointing,” Grinch said. “There’s no excuse for that. What we won’t do is come back after a game and say, ‘It’s OK.’ It’s not OK. You have an opportunity on every snap to get the ball. The ball doesn’t know it’s supposed to stay in the running back’s hands. It doesn’t know it’s supposed to go from the quarterback’s hands to the receiver.”

Setting a goal in this case is perfectly acceptable, Grinch believes.

“There’s a reason you practice those 15 days in the spring,” he said. “There’s a reason these guys gave up their entire summer. There’s a reason these last 30 days we’ve been working our tails off. What you don’t do is say, ‘now all that doesn’t matter, performance is less important.’ No. We’ve committed a year of our lives up to this point to play defense at the University of Oklahoma. Not to be dramatic, but I don’t know how else to describe it.”

Still, Riley wants to wait and grade OU’s defense even if it exceeds expectations against the Cougars. Through two games last year, the Sooners allowed 223 yards passing per game and were No. 7 nationally in sacks before struggling to historic lows the rest of the season.

“There’s always going to be opportunities to make plays,” redshirt senior nose guard Neville Gallimore said. “It’s just about making the most of it and not getting sidetracked, focusing on the task.


Houston at OU

When: 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 1

Place: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium


Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7

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