As Oklahoma prepares to take on Missouri State in its season opener Saturday, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch spoke to media about his expectations for 2020 over Zoom on Wednesday just 30 minutes before OU released its official depth chart.
In his first year in Norman in 2019, Grinch led the Sooners to a national ranking of No. 38 in total defense after finishing at No. 114 in 2018. Though he lost stalwarts Kenneth Murray, Neville Gallimore and Parnell Motley to the NFL during the offseason, Grinch still has the pieces in place to build a championship-caliber defense.
Here's what Grinch had to say prior to OU's first contest of 2020:
On continued turnover emphasis
Since his arrival in Norman, Grinch has continued to emphasize to players and media that turnovers win games. Throughout his career, he's proved time and again that two turnovers per game will lead to nine victories in a season. Grinch said Wednesday that his staff's emphasis on creating takeaways isn't going away any time soon.
"Well, I don't know that we could emphasize it any more and that's just the reality of it ... I think the other thing that you highlight is the impacts of the ones that we did get finishing the game, you know Nick Bonitto down in Waco (against Baylor), (against) TCU, (Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles) making a play, Parnell Motley making a play against Iowa State, and so when we say takeaways equal victory, don't tell me I'm wrong ... That controls games, it will never change in our sport and it will be emphasized as long as they allow me to stand in front of the room."
On junior defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey
Junior defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey joins the Sooners front in 2020 after two seasons at Iowa Western. Winfrey was the No. 1 junior college recruit in the nation per 247Sports and ESPN before his arrival in Norman, and Grinch said Winfrey is living up to the hype thus far.
Half an hour after Grinch spoke Wednesday, Winfrey was named OU's starting nose guard for its game against Missouri State Saturday.
"I think with all those first year guys you know, number one, you gotta do it on game day, but I will say I’m extremely excited about him. He's had an impactful fall camp on a play-in and play-out basis. Obviously he was highly ranked and recruited, but we got the guy we thought we got and so we'll manage expectations until he does it on Saturday night. ... I’m excited to watch him play on Saturday night."
On defensive line depth
On the surface, Oklahoma's defensive line looks rather depleted after redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Jalen Redmond opted out of the season last week, and junior defensive end Ronnie Perkins has yet to be cleared from a looming suspension that began before the 2019 Peach Bowl.
Regardless of the absences in his defensive front, Grinch said he's brought other guys to Oklahoma because he believes they can play at a high level, and he expects them to step up and do just that.
"Well, you know, facts trump feelings. And so, you know, the fact of the matter is that you know, those individuals that get opportunities have to go produce. And as you look at it, you say what probably (is) the biggest frustration as a coach is when an individual has an opportunity based on injury or based on circumstance and all of a sudden you put them out there and they don't take advantage of it ... And so, with all those things, there's a lot of guys that I’ve recruited to play high level football in Oklahoma The expectation is that they do just that. When their number’s called, we expect them to perform. So those are the facts, and then I think there's several guys that have embraced that opportunity up to this point, and obviously have to do it on game day."
On senior cornerback Tre Brown
Senior cornerback Tre Brown saved Oklahoma's season with a high speed chase down of Baylor wide receiver Chris Platt in the Sooners 30-23 overtime win over the Bears in the 2019 Big 12 championship game.
Grinch said Brown has come a long way since he first laid eyes on the speedy defender, Brown has become much more consistent by complementing his wheels with good technique.
"When I saw Tre Brown probably 20 months ago, it was inconsistency. And I would tell Tre Brown that if he was sitting here today, and he could try to mount an argument. I’d win it. If we had that conversation, you know, you saw ability, you saw speed, you saw too much reliance on that speed as opposed to techniques and fundamentals, and Coach Manning has done a tremendous job with our corner room. And so credit goes to him, but also credit goes to Tre Brown for buying in and working ... I just see more consistent play, and I see more (of) a guy that is trying to make a consistent impact on a down in and down out basis, and a guy that's not you know, just a speed guy anymore."
On tackling and physicality
During a media appearance on Aug. 20, Grinch told press that he was slightly concerned about his defense's tackling after their first scrimmage the day prior. Now he says the effort has improved rapidly since then, and is still being monitored week by week.
"Certainly, it's improved over the last couple of weeks. We had another scrimmage in between and then we did a couple more days of live. ... So I certainly feel better than I did whatever that was three weeks ago, something along those lines, but no, it's something you have to be conscious of. This game is not played on Zoom… When you talk about numbers, and if there's 'X' number of guys out at practice, well, that obviously hurts you depth wise, but it also increases the workload for the individuals that are out there. And so you’ve got to be smart from the physicality standpoint. How much is the appropriate load on these individuals? But no, that's something that's ongoing and something that you look at every week."
On bringing more energy during games
In 2020, Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium will have only 25 percent of its capacity filled, and cardboard cutouts of fans will be increasingly present. Though the stadium will likely be much quieter than usual, Grinch said it's up to him, his staff and his players to bring the energy on Saturdays.
"I think one of the critiques maybe that I would have a year ago is sometimes waiting for a play to create energy ... And that's with (80,000 or more) fans in the stands ... I try to remind these guys they didn't have 80,000 at Iowa Western. They didn't have 80,000 at (Northeastern Oklahoma A&M). Those high school games, even for the boys down in Texas, didn’t include 80,000. And so at some point in your football career, you decided it was about the challenge in front of you, which obviously is your opponent. It was about executing. It was about enjoying what you're doing despite who was in row three. And so that’s just something that’s a responsibility of our guys."