Last year we published an article demonstrating how the Oklahoma defensive turnaround was even better than it seemed in 2019. Then the College Football Playoff semifinal happened and Oklahoma’s defense surrendered 63 points and allowed Joe Burrow to be the first to throw for 300 yards against them in 2019. He topped it off with seven touchdown passes. Yes, the Sooners were shorthanded and it’s well known that losing several starters before a key game and losing another to an early ejection is unlikely to create a successful set of circumstances.
But fast forward to 2020, and with Oklahoma on the verge of a sixth-straight Big 12 Title, what this defense has done is beyond impressive.
The Sooners have recruited defense at a high level for a few years now. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and company have done a tremendous job building depth for the Sooners on the defensive side, depth that was a major issue for Oklahoma even just one season ago. Currently, Oklahoma sits at 16th in the nation in total defense. Oklahoma finally has a championship defense that matches the kind of potency that the Sooners have had for the last several seasons on offense. While Oklahoma’s chances at a College Football Playoff berth are minimal this season, Oklahoma may be primed for a big time run in 2021.
Jamar Cain, the defensive ends and outside linebacker’s coach Riley hired in the offseason has done a tremendous job in both recruiting and on-field coaching in a short time. Oklahoma is one of the best teams in college football in penetration and sacking the quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, Oklahoma is the second-highest graded defensive line in the nation by racking up nearly four sacks per game.
Individually, Oklahoma has highest-graded edge defender in defensive end Ronnie Perkins, second-highest in rush end Nik Bonitto, and fourth-highest in DE/DT Isaiah Thomas. Throw in the quality play of nose tackle Perrion Winfrey, and a plethora of strong players coming off the bench and the Sooners defensive line has been balling. Like it has always been in college football, the teams that control line of scrimmage often control the way a game ends up.
Since the return of Ronnie Perkins from his six-game suspension due to smoking marijuana (good old NCAA, but that is a different topic you can read about here), Oklahoma has been one of the best units in all of college football. The Sooners have given up just 295 yards per game, allow only 83 yards rushing (on 2.6 yards per clip) and are holding opponents’ quarterbacks to only 47% completion. They are turning their opponents over twice per game, limiting them to 24% on third down to go along with an eye-popping 10 tackles for loss per game and and nearly five sacks per game. Ronnie Perkins is putting on a clinic with 17 tackles, four sacks, and eight tackles for loss. For some perspective, if Perkins were able to replicate this performance through 14 games, he would be at 60 tackles, 14 sacks and 28 tackles for loss. Obviously, that is an absurd pace, but that is the level of play Ronnie Perkins has injected directly into this Oklahoma team since his return.
As a result of Oklahoma’s recent play on both side of the ball, many Sooner fans understandably look at their two earlier losses to Iowa State and Kansas State and wonder “what if”. Alas, that conversation can hold until the offseason. There is a sixth-straight Big 12 title for this team to win on Saturday.
In the moment, OU fans should not lose site of the fact that Alex Grinch is doing an amazing job with this defense. Plus, he is doing it despite losing several starters before the season, while also losing three big-time contributors from last year’s team to the NFL.
The quality of play for the Sooners defense is only going to continue to improve. The Sooners continue to recruit very well and are now developing talent at a breakneck pace. Keep in mind the Sooners will get DB Justin Harrington, LB Caleb Kelly, and DE/DT Jalen Redmond back from injuries next season.
The Sooners were known for being elite defensively for decades. And while it’s been a rough few years on that side of the ball in Norman, the tide has officially turned. The Oklahoma Sooners Speed D is back and they’ll try to let it carry them to another Big 12 Championship on Saturday against Oklahoma State.
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