The unit heard all the chatter that they were the best defense in the Big 12 and one of the better defenses in the entire country. They wanted to prove those beliefs to be true but didn’t believe they were a fact without playing a down on the field.
After two games, Oklahoma’s defense is starting to prove that it might be one of the best in the country.
“Love the way the kids are playing,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Great group to go to work with. Our players have really worked hard, and it’s the accumulation or totality of the team that makes them such a good group.”
Oklahoma allowed just 95 total yards in the first half against Tulsa on Saturday during the 52-7 victory and forced four turnovers – two of which came as Tulsa was driving for a touchdown in the redzone.
“The first half couldn’t have gone much better,” Bob Stoops said. “Other than the one drive to start the second half, we adjusted to what they were doing and got better, got pressure and forced turnovers.”
The unit as a whole has received support from up and down the depth chart.
Charles Walker, who will miss a couple weeks with a knee injury, Matt Dimon and Matt Romar were great fill-ins in the first game, and linebacker Caleb Gastelum, who earned a scholarship after the victory Saturday, hauled in an interception in the final seconds to keep Tulsa in single digits Saturday.
An injury to Zack Sanchez even forced freshman Jordan Thomas, one of two true freshmen playing a significant role in the secondary, into the spotlight – where he made a few good plays but otherwise has some growing to do.
Stoops said Sanchez, who picked off a pass before his injury, is fine after a right shoulder injury forced him to miss the second half of the game.
“Even some of the backups today in the second half played better than they did a week ago,” Bob Stoops said. “… They did execute better.”
It’s the transition of a trio of players though that has pushed the defense over the top.
Without Sanchez, Wilson stepped in as the No. 1 cornerback, although he played just his first game as the No. 2 last weekend. He made three tackles and was sound in run support and pass coverage.
Grissom, who now has three career touchdowns, grabbed an interception in coverage on a great bait play, and Striker finished eight tackles and routinely ran in coverage with the Golden Hurricane slot receivers.
“That’s what makes the defense work,” Mike Stoops said of Grissom and Striker, “feel comfortable in space and feel comfortable rushing the quarterback. It gives us a balanced defense.”
Grissom dropped back to the second level after playing at defensive end before last season. It has taken a while for him to adjust, and even Mike Stoops said it’s not a natural transition. But his play thus far has proven all that off season praise to be true.
“I’m not thinking about it anymore, really” Grissom said. “I know what’s going to happen. I know where I need to be. It has made a big difference.”