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‘Less talking, more actual doing’: Alex Grinch, Sooners defense hits new low against Big 12 doormat Kansas

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Sooners defense

The Sooners defense attempts to recover the football after sophomore defensive back Key Lawrence stripped the ball during the game against Kansas in Lawrence on Oct. 23.

LAWRENCE — Sophomore defensive back Key Lawrence’s right fist jarred the ball loose from the Kansas receiver’s grasp just before redshirt senior safety Justin Broiles scooped it up.

After the two fell to the ground with the ball in Oklahoma’s possession, Lawrence looked toward his sideline and raised his left arm in the air — a celebration synonymous with forcing turnovers. Upon returning to the sideline, however, Lawrence and company were met by defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who was in anything but a celebratory mood.

In a 35-23 win Saturday, No. 3 OU (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) allowed 412 yards to the Jayhawks (1-6, 0-4), tied for the second-most yards Kansas has totaled in a game this season. Additionally, Kansas went 9-of-13 on third-down and Lawrence’s forced fumble was the Sooners’ lone turnover. Grinch’s frustrated postgame demeanor matched the one he had roaming OU’s bench.

“Why aren’t we seeing that more?” Grinch said of Lawrence’s forced fumble. “We gotta do less talking and more actual doing. … Where are those gang tackles with guys stripping at the football? What are we doing wrong as a coaching staff to not convince guys of the impact of those plays? We keep seeing the impact. Why’s that not happening more?”

Entering the game, Oklahoma had forced 11 turnovers on the season, tied for the second most among Big 12 teams. The Sooners also entered Saturday with 19 sacks, but tallied just one against the Jayhawks. OU had zero sacks in its 52-31 win Oct. 16 over TCU.

Kansas dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 35:30 versus Oklahoma’s 24:30. The Sooners trailed the Jayhawks 10-0 at the end of the first half, which lasted roughly an hour and a half, prompting OU coach Lincoln Riley to call it the fastest first half he’s ever been part of. Oklahoma managed only three offensive possessions in the first two quarters.

“In the end, if you want to get off the field, make a play,” Grinch said. “Thrilled that guys stepped up, (but) if I think about the guys who have stepped up over recent weeks, that list is very short. Means we could do a better job of preparing the guys. … We need to make more (big plays).”

Jayhawks quarterback Jason Bean completed 17-of-23 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown. Also, receiver Kwamie Lassiter II had 101 yards on seven receptions and running back Devin Neal had 23 carries for 100 yards and two touchdowns. That compares to a year ago when Kansas managed only 151 passing and 95 rushing yards in a 62-9 loss in Norman.

KU began Saturday’s game with a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive that lasted 9:15. During the possession, which saw the power briefly go out at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Oklahoma garnered three offsides penalties. The Sooners ended the day with 10 penalties for 65 yards.

OU last tallied double-digit penalties during its road win over Kansas State on Oct. 2, when it was flagged 10 times for 85 yards in a 37-31 win.

“The most frustrating part is that all of that was self-inflicted,” said senior defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas of OU’s start to the game. “As a leader, (I was) jumping offsides. That’s inexcusable. I didn't let it affect me for the rest of the game, but more so in the moment. I'm disappointed in myself and frustrated because I know I got guys that look up to me. 

“Just as a group, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. But, it’s always great to respond and finish strong. … But now we have to harp on starting better than what we have been.”

When describing his unit’s overall play this season, Grinch said the Sooners’ defense has grown inconsistent in recent weeks. He blamed himself and the rest of OU’s defensive coaching staff for the team’s struggles, stating their weekly practice regiments needed to be improved. 

Thomas echoed his coach’s point of needed urgency throughout practice, but said he was confident the Sooners will find defensive solutions soon.

“Ultimately, getting the right guys out there at the right time is going to fix this,” Thomas said. “I was walking to the tunnel after the game and (our team’s) final words were, ‘We’re going to figure this out, we’re going to get this fixed.' The inconsistency is a big, disappointing part of this, because we see what we’re capable of doing when we get three and outs (or) stops when we need them.

“After we get a big stop or we get a big play, it feels like that’s when we get the most (inconsistent). That’s just a mindset we cannot have if we want to be that elite team that we have aspirations of being.”

Chandler Engelbrecht is a journalism senior and the Daily's assistant sports editor. He currently covers OU football and has previously covered OU men's basketball, volleyball and men's gymnastics.

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