By Michael Kinney
A year ago this week coach Lincoln Riley made a decision that he hoped would change the direction of his football program. After a crushing loss to Texas, Riley fired longtime defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
When the season was over, Riley hired Alex Grinch to take over as the Sooner’s defensive coordinator. Now, after five weeks of warmups, Oklahoma fans will get to see this week why he was brought to the program.
No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 11 Texas will renew their rivalry Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. It will be Grinch’s first shot at the Longhorns.
In last year’s October matchup, the Sooners allowed Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger to go wild as he accounted for five touchdowns. He ran for 84 yards and threw for 314 yards.
Grinch knows stopping the hard-charging, mobile Ehlinger will be key, especially along the goal line.
“There are other guys that are big. But he has a unique ability to find enough of a crease to create the pile moving forward,” Grinch said. “It’s why they are good at what they do and why they’ve had so much success.”
But Texas coach Tom Herman has seen some big changes in Sooner’s defense that could cause his Longhorns problems.
“In the couple of hours that I’ve watched them, they are really, really flying to the football. Not extremely complex in terms of coverage structure but they are in the right place, not very many busts,” Herman said. “Not turning guys loose. The thing that’s a bit unique is the multiplicity of their defensive front. Them stemming and moving and twisting on almost every snap, which is difficult on an offensive lineman, to be honest with you, to try to target a guy and all of a sudden he is moving on you… I’ve been impressed with Coach Grinch the short time, the level they are playing at right now.”
Texas comes into the matchup with only one loss on its resume. That was to a top-five ranked LSU squad.
However, they have been plagued by injuries this season and have watched positions such as defensive back and running back be whittled down.
Yet, because the Red River Rivalry is one of those games that the record never seems to matter, Oklahoma coaches are making sure their players don’t get overconfident.
While this is Grinch’s first foray into the Red River Rivalry, it will be the last for several members of the Sooners. That includes defensive back Parnell Motley, who has some advice for the young players who’ve never played in the game before.
“I just tell the young guys to be yourself,” Motley said. “It’s a big game, but it’s more about us. There’s going to be some moments out there, going back and forth. But at the end of the day, just play your game. I’m just glad to have these young guys on board, to just be a part of this moment in OU-Texas. This is a great moment.”
For Oklahoma fans who get a kick out of seeing the Sooners pull out the ‘Horns down’ hand gesture after a big play, they may be out of luck this season.
Riley announced this week that his Sooners would not be doing the gesture under any circumstance because it could draw a taunting penalty.
“Yeah, we won’t,” Riley said. “Our players won’t do it. Yeah, our players won’t do it, just like the Big 12 [Championship] Game.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider