Oklahoma’s remarkable defensive turnaround has been as much a part of the
Sooners reaching their third straight College Football Playoff as the highpowered
offense fans have become accustomed to watching over the last
Under first-year coordinator Alex Grinch, Oklahoma ranks 24th nationally out
of 130 teams and leads the Big 12 in total defense by allowing just 330.6
yards per game. OU also ranks ninth in the country in third down conversion
percentage (.301), 11th in tackles for loss (7.8 per game), 24th in passing
defense (198.5 yards per game), 30th in sacks (2.7 per game), 32nd in rushing
defense (132.1 yards per game) and 50th in scoring defense (24.5 points per
Every area is an improvement over OU’s 2018 national rankings, with the
most notable jumps in total defense (114th to 24th), passing defense (129th
to 24th) and third-down conversion percentage (118th to ninth).
On average, Oklahoma allows 8.8 fewer points, 123.2 fewer yards, 95.5
fewer passing yards and 27.7 fewer rushing yards per game than last year’s
team did for the entire season. OU has also reduced opponents’ third-down
conversion rate by more than 16 points, from 46.4 percent in 2018 to 30.1
percent this season.
Oklahoma, which has forced a punt on their opponent’s first possession in 12
of 13 games this season, has allowed more than 6.0 yards per play once on
the year (6.9 by Iowa State). In the 41 games from 2016-18, OU permitted at
least 6.0 yards per play 20 times.
Since trailing Baylor 31-10 at halftime on Nov. 16, Oklahoma has held the
Bears, TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor again to a combined 873 yards (62.4
per quarter), holding major advantages in plays (278-168), first downs (95-
43) and time of possession (134:30-74:30).
Some of the team’s young defenders have excelled this season, as seven
of the team’s top 10 tacklers are freshmen or sophomores. Four sophomore
defenders (safety Pat Fields, defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins, safety
Delarrin Turner-Yell and linebacker DaShaun White) have started every
game, and another (defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles) has started 12.
Two redshirt freshmen (linebacker Nik Bonitto seven and defensive lineman
Jalen Redmond three) and two true freshmen (cornerback Jaden Davis and
outside linebacker David Ugwoegbu) have each started at least one.
The veteran front end of the defense has played a significant role in the
unit’s improvement. Junior linebacker Kenneth Murray was a first-team All-
Big 12 selection and a semifinalist for the Butkus, Bednarik and Lott IMPACT
Trophy awards. He has registered team highs of 95 tackles and 16.0 tackles
for loss (career high), including 4.0 sacks, four pass breakups and five QB
The defensive line is anchored by a trio of redshirt seniors in Neville
Gallimore, Marquise Overton and Dillon Faamatau that have combined to
play in 139 career games and compile 29 tackles for loss at the nose guard
position. Gallimore is also responsible for seven QB hurries this season. Big
12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year LaRon Stokes has been disruptive with
4.5 TFLs among his 13 total tackles.
Perkins leads the defensive line with 13.5 tackles for loss and paces the
squad with 6.0 sacks, while Redmond has registered 9.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks.
Bonitto has been credited with 43 tackles, 6.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks, while
White is fourth on the team with 46 tackles, 3.5 of them for loss.
Cornerbacks Parnell Motley and Tre Brown each have 11 pass breakups
and one interception this season, and Motley has forced a team-high four
fumbles. Turner-Yell is OU’s second-leading tackler with 75 total stops (60
solo) and 5.5 for loss. Fields has 58 tackles, 6.0 for loss, 2.0 sacks and five
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