How many Oklahoma fans would have taken this scenario during fall camp?
The Sooners are No. 26 in total defense. They completed the regular season as the Big 12’s best in that category (336.1 yards) as well as passing yards allowed (195.9).
Defense is a big reason why Oklahoma is playing in the Big 12 Championship game. The Sooners’ foe is Baylor, who has the conference’s top scoring defense (18.4 points allowed).
This isn’t 2015, when both top 10 schools were anchored by explosive offenses. Quality defense has been a staple for both programs in 2019.
The narrative of Big 12 defenses being down will be hard for schools to shuck even when statistics back that up. Recent seasons have created that storyline.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was hired to help OU bring a turnabout. The results have been impressive, but he chose not to talk about the defense’s restructure.
“I won’t go there,” Grinch said after Saturday’s 34-16 win over Oklahoma State. “I won’t go there because we’ve got one game left and we’ve talked about one-game evaluations and we’re going to stick to that as we go.
“I thought tonight was good and we’ve got to play our best game. It’s going to require our best next week to call ourselves champions.”
If Oklahoma’s season ends with many goals achieved, it can pinpoint halftime of the Nov. 16 game at Baylor.
The program’s historic comeback began by shutting the Bears out in the second half of the 34-31 victory. Over the past 10 quarters — which also included wins over Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State — the Sooners have only allowed three touchdown drives, a low third-down conversion percentage (7-of-25, 28%) and had game-clinching interceptions by Nik Bonitto (Baylor), Brendan Radley-Hiles (TCU) and Parnell Motley (Oklahoma State).
Grinch is in the unique situation of game-planning for an opponent just three weeks after the first meeting. He struggled to remember the last time he’s prepared for the same team twice in a season.
“It’s unique. I go back through it through my history. I’m trying to think how many times it’s actually happened in my career. It certainly has, but not many,” Grinch said. “You take stock in the previous game in how they attacked us, but you’ve also got to give them credit in terms of them analyzing how we attacked them.
“You’ve also got to be you. I think they’d look at it the same way. It’s a tremendous team, program. They have our respect. You play in a championship game, which I’ve been fortunate to be part of on both sides, you know you’re going to play a real one. If you don’t play your best game this next Saturday, then it won’t go your way.”
Motley had two takeaways against the Cowboys, a strip and fumble recovery in the first quarter and the game-sealing interception on OSU’s final possession. Motley remembers giving up 31 points to Baylor in the first half of the game in Waco. He also remembers what happened after intermission.
“We played to our ability second half and knew what the standard was and we changed it around,” Motley said. “The mindset this game is to start off fast, be hungry, do your job and only your job, and cut it loose.”
Brendan Radley-Hiles, who finished with a career-high 10 tackles, was asked if he felt like the defense turned a corner. The sophomore nickel back said the past was behind the defense earlier in the season.
“We’re in the now and we focus on that now, but we definitely still have strides to make, and I feel as if this defense has stepped up in critical games, but we still can be better,” Radley-Hiles said. “There’s still room for improvement in every area.”