On Thursday, news came out that Texas Tech would speak with Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch about potentially becoming the next head coach.
The reaction from Red Raider fans has collectively been “absolutely not”. Look anywhere, and you’ll find almost universal condemnation for the mere thought of Grinch coming to Lubbock. Maybe, it’s for good reason. Oklahoma’s defense ranks 65th in the FBS for yards allowed and 56th in points allowed. OU’s tackling hasn’t been great either, as we’ve seen so far this season.
However, OU has had significant injuries on its defense for most of the season. It’s why the secondary hasn’t looked great. Starting cornerback Woodi Washington has been hurt since week 1. OU’s other starting cornerback, D.J. Graham, suffered a concussion against TCU. Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell missed a few weeks with a hamstring injury. Jeremiah Criddell has also missed games. That’s four starters the Sooners have missed for multiple weeks. Those injuries have forced multiple players, including Billy Bowman and Key Lawrence, to play out of position. That’s how bad it got.
That’s just the secondary too. OU suffered injuries to its defensive line as well, with Jalen Redmond getting hurt against Nebraska and playing his first game in just under two months last week.
With a healthy defense, the Sooners have looked good. They gave up just 16 points to Nebraska, 13 to West Virginia, and 24 to Kansas State (KSU’s final touchdown came on special teams). Last week, the Red Raiders only put up 21 on Oklahoma.
Also, can an Alex Grinch defense be worse than what Tech has right now? The Red Raiders have given up 394 rushing yards in a game this season, with zero adjustments made at any point. Grinch can’t possibly be any worse than what Keith Patterson brings.
No matter what you think of Oklahoma, you can’t deny he’s transformed its defense. In 2018, the Sooners ranked last in the Big 12 for total defense. In 2019, the year Grinch arrived, OU jumped to second. The year after, they finished third, including seventh nationwide in defensive efficiency. The Sooners used to be a laughing stock on defense. Now, it’s a reason they compete (and sometimes, the reason they win).
Grinch’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme works. It’s designed to create lots of pressure while keeping the structure in the back seven. On the defensive line, the Sooners play two defensive tackles. One plays like a traditional defensive end (Isaiah Thomas) and one that’s a nose tackle (Redmond). These two line up as 5 techniques and are required to have the quick and efficient pass-rush ability.
Both Thomas and Redmond thrive in Grinch’s scheme, especially Thomas, who Red Raider fans may know as the guy that wreaked havoc on Tech’s offensive line. In total, he had one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, and was responsible for a deflection that led to an interception.
The other two defensive linemen can play in a multitude of ways. This allows Grinch to confuse the offense with pre-snap movements, different fronts, and various lineups. The edge rushers box everything in, allowing the boundary safety to run downhill and make plays.
This is where guys like Nik Bonitto come in. Bonitto is quick, efficient, and can line up anywhere on the field — a perfect fit for Grinch’s scheme. He’s got five sacks this season, thanks to being in a system that fits him.
While the defensive line causes chaos, the linebackers are the ones that make the plays. He puts two linebackers in the box, requiring quick reaction times from them to make plays. The third linebacker is a nickel. This nickel will play a variation of free safety looks and underneath coverages. Add in pre-snap movements, and it’s all designed to confuse the defense. He’s required to play fast as well. Are you sensing a theme here?
Also, one of Oklahoma’s linebackers, Brian Asamoah, is a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. Do whatever you want with that information.
Grinch’s secondary plays basic quarters, allowing players to swarm and flood the box to stop the run. This has been super effective this season, with OU ranking 17th in run defense. Grinch’s corners are a field corner (Washington) and boundary corner (Graham). OU runs a lot of man-to-man press coverage, meaning the boundary corner will be on an island with no help sometimes. However, if his cover skills are good, this isn’t a problem. Grinch plays aggressive, and would rather get beat that way than get beat by playing two passive.
The safeties have the toughest job. We’ve already talked about the boundary safety’s (Turner-Yell) job, while the free safety (Pat Fields) has the job of lining up over slot receivers and helping the nickel LB underneath. These two roles are interchangeable, designed to confuse, another theme of Grinch’s defense.
You may have heard the “Speed D” term OU uses, but that’s how Grinch wants his defense to play — fast, downhill, and manipulative. Big 12 offenses are fast; Grinch’s scheme is designed to match it.
I haven’t been talking about the offense, but that’s cause he’s a DC. Texas Tech can always get good players on offense, and Grinch’s recruiting styles and strategy will continue. He’s a great recruiter, and if he can get his guys into the system, he can transform Tech’s defense like he did OU’s. In just three years at OU, he’s been responsible for five 4-star commits, all of whom have or will have key roles with the Sooners.
This isn’t meant to be a Grinch endorsement, but Tech fans shouldn’t freak out about his name being mentioned. Tech’s main problem in the past decade has been defense. If Grinch is hired, he would be the guy to change that.