Football

On the Oklahoma defense

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I only briefly interacted with Lincoln Riley during the televised presser with the following question which generated a decidedly annoyed response:

Ian: 
2015, your first year with the program, Oklahoma was first in the league in scoring defense. Last year, Oklahoma was last. Oklahoma won the Big 12 both seasons and both seasons in between. How much does defense matter for Oklahoma and winning the Big 12.

Narrator pause: The theme and line of the Big 12 yesterday was “hey we do play defense here, defense does matter thank you very much.” But Oklahoma’s last four years seem to suggest the opposite. My goal here was to provoke a discussion on what defense looks like, program emphasis, and to do so in a way that would provoke Riley just a little so we could get past the planned talking points.

Lincoln Riley:
Matters a great deal. It’s a huge part of your football team. We haven’t played our best defensively consistently through the years but in a lot of big games, including the last won in here (Jerry World, 2018 B12 title game) we’ve played pretty darn good. We’ve got to do that more consistently to make ourselves a better team and we feel like we’ve taken the steps to do that.

At this point Riley has to be feeling extra sensitive about the defense because from here on out he fully owns the problem. Scapegoat Stoops is gone, Riley made all the hires, and if they keep floundering then things could get tough with Jalen Hurts and then whoever coming up after him, neither of whom may be ready to replicate what Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray did, at least not in 2019 and 2020.

But if I was hoping for a sort of Col. Jessup, “is defense an afterthought!” “You’re G—– right it is!” moment then I failed.

This guy is incredibly similar to Bob Stoops, who used the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama as a criticism shield for years. I think the fact that Oklahoma beat Texas with a solid gameplan and one very notable defensive play in 2018 is going to come back up as often as it needs to while Riley makes excuses and buys time for Grinch to get the defensive house in order.

Kenneth Murray

Ian:

How’s it been at your new position this spring and this offseason in the defense?

Murray:
Uh, it’s been good, I mean, playing the same position, Mike, um

Ian:
You’re not playing any will?

Murray:
Nuh uh, I’m playing mike, and so, playing mike, going throughout the spring, listening to the new coach and learning from him. He’s been someone where I can pick his brain every day and learn something new every day so I’ve been excited, having fun with it.

Narrator pause: I’ve heard from an OU source that talks to White that they’d been trying Murray out some at will, which I think is the best bet for this guy actually making good and being a DPOY kind of player this season. He responded pretty quickly here though so I honestly don’t know if he’s lying or if my source was wrong.

Ian:
What have been some of the big differences going from the defense y’all played last year to the new Alex Grinch defense?

Murray:
Uh, simplicity. Just keeping things simple, trying to play with great effort and keep things as simple as possible and just attack it.

Ian:
Is it a lot simpler to uh, like I know in the Big 12 you have to deal with a lot of run pass conflict at linebacker sometimes. We talked last year, you mentioned you had to mind a TE in motion against Georgia…

Murray:
Hmm mhmm…

Ian:
…and then they’re running into a gap that has to go to someone else. Are things like that getting simplified in the new scheme is is there still a lot to balance?

Murray:
Uh no, those things are pretty much simplified. I feel like my coaches do a phenomenal job of taking out all the grey area and letting us play.

Ian:
How has it been playing more of the zone pass defenses that Grinch brings as opposed to the more man coverage in the past?

Murray:
Uh……..it’s been great.

Narrator pause: It wasn’t clear if the pause here was related to him determining whether to affirm that they were playing more zone, to correct me if my presentation was faulty or what, but he was clearly thinking about the best way to respond and settled on “it’s been great” as a safe non-answer.

Ian:
Has it been difficult getting everybody to a new mindset just in terms of how you respond to schemes or how you play as a unit?

Murray:
Obviously you have your challenges when trying to instill change and trying to instill a new mentality, um, but over time after you keeping going over and over and over you start to see change, see change, see change, but you have to realize it’s a process and you just gotta stay in the process and stay the course.

Ian:
Who are some guys that you feel like are taking well to the new system that are really standing out on the defense that can help define a different unit in 2019?

Murray:
Uh, the D-line, Neville, LaRon Stokes, Jon-Michael Terry, um, obviously Dashaun White, um, and guys in the back end you got Tre Norwood, you got Tre Brown, you got Justin Broiles, all those guys are taking the next step. So, I mean we still got a long way to go, obviously we haven’t been through camp yet, but I’m excited to see what camp looks like.

Narrator pause: Neville Gallimore is an obvious candidate here, Stokes is a JUCO addition at DE somewhat in the mold of a Jacoby Jones, Jon-Michael Terry is a converted LB that will be at the rush position. Everyone is talking up DE/OLB Jalen Redmond who’s been sitting out with health concerns and everyone has been eager to see back. The expectation has been that Redmond is going to come in on a white horse and rescue the defense with impact play off the edge but that seems hard to expect from someone that’s been sidelined so long.

Murray and White inside is a given, Broiles is an interesting guy to come up. We haven’t seen him play yet.

Ian:
How huge was it for you guys last year when Tre Norwood was able to move to safety for the Big 12 championship game and kinda allowed you guys to lock things down there, and play Kelly out there at sam and really gang up on Texas’ run game?

Murray:
It was good, I mean, able to have fun, able to put people in position that they needed to be in for us to win the game so it was good.

Ian:
Where is he, where do you think he’ll end up this year, he’s played three or four different positions, is there a spot where you think he’s really shining right now? Or is it still, we’ll see?

Murray:
Tre?

Ian:
Yeah

Murray:
Uh, I dunno we’ll see when the time comes.

Murray was pretty guarded, he’s seeing things and reacting a little quicker in the media game than a year ago. Whether Grinch can get him playing fast against B12 offenses will be another matter. My sense of the conversation was that they haven’t put it all together, it’ll probably come down to how their older players react next season when they don’t have early success locking teams down and if the offense doesn’t bail them out.

Will this defense be able to improve down the stretch if there isn’t the prize of a B12 trophy in the balance to motivate them?


History major, football theorist.