No. 14 Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard isn’t having the same Heisman-contending season he was a year ago, but Alex Grinch still sees the junior running back being a major threat to the No. 18 Sooners (5-2, 4-2 Big 12) on Saturday.
“When he’s on the field, he looks like the same explosive running back,” Grinch said in a Zoom press conference on Wednesday. “I think the biggest thing is just playing in a short, condensed season where we find ourselves right now… (Hubbard’s) just not being on the field as much.”
Hubbard has led the Cowboys (5-1, 4-1 Big 12) to the Big 12’s second-most effective rushing attack, averaging 190 yards per game as a team. On his own, he has 125 carries for 581 yards and five touchdowns this season.
With major Big 12 title implications on the line this weekend, keeping Hubbard and the rest of the OSU offense below its season averages will be a top priority for Oklahoma.
Here’s what else OU’s defensive coordinator had to say ahead of Bedlam:
Defending Tylan Wallace and Spencer Sanders
In addition to Hubbard, the Cowboys also house one of the more experienced quarterback and wide receiver duos in the Big 12. Quarterback Spencer Sanders currently holds the conference’s second-best completion percentage at 67.7 and wide receiver Tylan Wallace leads the Big 12 in total receiving yards with 588.
“It’s as challenging as it will be for us this year,” Grinch said. “A lot of respect for (OSU), their coach, their scheme (and) their ability to use that talent. It’s one thing to have it, it’s another thing to use it. … It doesn’t get a whole lot tougher than this, and they certainly have our respect.
“They’re gonna put you in one-on-one battles, whether you want to be in one or not. … It makes it awfully difficult. When you can cross off one of those three factors, (your) confidence our level goes up, but it’s not that simple.”
Isaiah Thomas filling in for Ronnie Perkins
As junior defensive end Ronnie Perkins missed the Sooners’ initial five games of the year due suspension, fellow junior defensive end Isaiah Thomas filled his role. During that span, Thomas recorded 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks for Oklahoma.
Now the two find themselves playing together some, with Thomas rotating between the inside and outside positions. But Grinch views Thomas’ time in Perkins spot as a silver lining.
“We’ve been a fan of Isaiah Thomas for a long time. There’s a reason we asked him to (fill in for Ronnie). … Behind the scenes, he’s a guy who we’ve trusted maybe more than what’s suggested in games. I think there is absolutely no question that he took advantage of it in every way. When someone’s out and you give someone else an opportunity, your biggest frustration is when guys don’t take advantage of that. (I’m) certainly pleased with him.”
Nik Bonitto’s growth
As a starter this season, sophomore linebacker Nik Bonitto has posted 5.5 sacks and 18 tackles for the Sooners. Grinch believes Bonitto has yet to reach his full potential.
“(Bonitto) has matured a lot. As a byproduct, his production on the field has gone up. … I think you’ve seen a more mature football player, a more confident football player. (He has) the ability to win a one-on-one and be a guy in this day and age of college football to spy a quarterback. You’re not just covering wide receivers, sometimes you’re covering quarterbacks (and) he has the ability to do all of those things for us.