As TCU faced third-and-11 late in the second quarter, junior defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey stepped up to make a play.
TCU quarterback Max Duggan ran up the middle and was clobbered as he met the 6-foot-3, 297-pound lineman, forcing the Horned Frogs to punt, keeping the score at 17-7.
The Sooners have struggled maintaining their leads at times this season, allowing their opponents to comeback in three of the five games thus far. And as TCU looked primed to bring the score within one possession, it was the defensive line that stepped up with nine tackles for loss and three sacks on Saturday.
“We play a fast, intense level and we're very productive these last few weeks,” redshirt junior defensive linemen Isaiah Thomas said. “And I think that speaks volumes to our coaches with how we’ve handled adversity this year, and also how well we've been producing. So it's really, really fun to play with them and see how fast we're maturing out there.”
Although the defensive line has been a bright spot for the Sooners’ defense this season, they’re playing without starters in redshirt sophomore Jalen Redmond and junior Ronnie Perkins, who both led the team in sacks last season.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is leaning on new and inexperienced players with lots of rotations and combinations, but the result is a productive line that is surprising many with its playmaking ability and pressure at the line of scrimmage.
“To have a couple snaps on the sidelines and read out, refocus before going back in there is critical,'' Grinch said. “Those individuals who come in the game (have) to perform at a certain level ... Your mind has got to be performing (at) the level that coach Grinch would never take you out in the game.”
Grinch’s defense, with the consistent rotation, had 10 players contribute to nine tackles for loss. Four of the tackles for loss were contributed by players without significant playing time until this season.
“Give coach (Calvin) Thibodeaux and coach (Jamar) Cain credit because I think they've really done a good job bringing in so many guys along,” head coach Lincoln Riley said. “There’s a lot of guys playing for us across that front that’ve either played zero, or very limited snaps. They've really done a nice job. And they're doing it obviously without some key pieces, and which I think makes it all the more impressive.”
The defense allowed just 75 rushing yards against TCU Saturday, a big improvement from 141 yards given up against Texas two weeks prior, and only 11.04 yards-per-completion against TCU opposed to 18.61 from the Kansas State game.
With the defensive line’s strong play, it allowed the secondary to pick up their play and trust the defensive backs on the outside.
“Our D-line, they went to work today and I'm proud of them,” junior defensive back Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles said. “Every chance I got I was congratulating them and going up to them. So I'm just glad I'm playing with the D-line. They're doing their thing and (they) trust in us to do our part.”