A sea of players, coaches and media jogged onto the field as the final seconds ticked off in No. 9 Oklahoma’s (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) 42-41 win over Iowa State (5-4, 3-3 Big 12).
Right on the midfield logo, the Sooner secondary huddled around senior cornerback Parnell Motley, the savior of the game and, possibly, the Sooners’ College Football Playoff hopes.
“This the man right here,” junior cornerback Tre Brown said while he put his arm around Motley. “Don’t ever doubt him. Yes sir, P-Mot!”
Just minutes earlier, Motley effectively sealed the Sooner win when he intercepted a pass on what would have been a game-winning 2-point conversion with 24 seconds left in the game.
In a single play, Motley epitomized everything first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch wants his players to be: he was physical, he was aggressive and, most importantly to Grinch, he was able to force a turnover.
Motley wasn’t made available to the media after the game, but his teammates that were sang his praises.
“That was just a great play by Parnell,” sophomore nickelback Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles said. “That was an effort-based play by him. The second effort to rip that ball out from him when it was going both ways and he just kind of pulled it away from him.”
Juxtaposed to Motley’s play was the rest of the Sooners’ second half. Instead of being physical, the Cyclones offensive line bullied the Sooner front seven to the tune of 213 rushing yards. Instead of being aggressive, the Sooners allowed 6.9 yards per play — the most they’ve allowed in 2019. Instead of getting a takeaway, they allowed four Cyclone touchdowns in the second half.
“In defensive football, the tackle has to be made every single snap regardless of scoreboard. It never gets easy,” Grinch said. “That’s just something that continues to be a frustrating deal for us because you’re not seeing the same urgency, intensity, energy and execution for four quarters.”
The defensive performance in the second half is particularly demoralizing when its placed in context with the rest of the Sooners’ 2019 season. Through the first seven games, they appeared to be a re-energized group that had the capability to carry the team at times when the offense struggled.
That narrative came crashing down in Manhattan, Kansas, two weeks ago when the Sooners suffered their first loss of the season to Kansas State, 48-41.
Saturday was an opportunity to show the college football world the performance against the Wildcats was a fluke. Instead, the Sooners showed they may be in the same spot They’ve been in the last two seasons: they have one of the nation’s best offenses, captained by a Heisman-caliber quarterback, but are held back by a defense that can’t consistently get stops.
“These last two performances haven’t been acceptable at all,” junior linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “I wake up every morning pissed off and I go to bed uneasy because the side of the ball that I lead didn’t play to the standard we’re capable of playing…”
“When we don’t get the things done that we say we’re going to do and don’t live up to the standard we set in place for us, it's not OK with me.”