DALLAS — Oklahoma Sooners coach Lincoln Riley had nearly reached the Cotton Bowl tunnel after his team’s 34-27 victory Saturday over No. 11 Texas, but then he turned around. Riley found Alex Grinch on the field and gave the Sooners’ first-year defensive coordinator a big hug.
“Everything to me feels like déjà vu,” Riley said. “I remember those moments, my first time here, getting a chance to win this game for the first time. I was excited how we played defensively. It was cool to be able to share that moment with him.
“Journey is just getting started, though.”
Oklahoma’s revamped defense under Grinch propelled the team to victory in the annual Red River Showdown. The Sooners (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) tied a team record with nine sacks and recorded 15 tackles for loss, their second-highest total against Texas. The Longhorns’ sacks allowed total also tied a team record.
The Sooners held Texas to minus-12 net rushing yards in the first half and 4.2 yards per play for the game. Oklahoma allowed 48 points and 501 yards in a loss to Texas in last season’s Red River Showdown. Two days after the game, Riley fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, the brother of Riley’s predecessor, Bob Stoops.
Riley hired Grinch from Ohio State’s staff in January.
“Alex does a great job,” Riley said. “He’s good about not adding too much, making sure that our guys play, are confident, but having a few wrinkles here and there to keep people off base. You have to have some things you believe in, then you have to know when to get creative and add a wrinkle, and when not to.
“He has a tremendous feel for that.”
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger credited Oklahoma for a scheme that frees up players “as opposed to trying to do a whole bunch of complex stuff.” Although Grinch brought pressure from different angles, his primary focus has been a more aggressive mentality for a defense that last season ranked 101st nationally in points allowed and 114th in yards allowed.
Eight Sooners players recorded a sack Saturday and 14 factored into the team’s tackles for loss total.
“It’s the ecosystem, it’s everything, it’s the air you breathe in that building,” Grinch said. “Since this defensive staff got together in January, it’s just been an onslaught to try to instill it. It’s a daily conversation amongst coaches and players. … You’ve got to break ’em and build ’em at the exact same time, and say, ‘It’s not good enough, but we can be good enough.’
“It’s not one talk, it’s not one week. It’s none of those things, but it’s all of those things.”
Linebacker Kenneth Murray and nose guard Neville Gallimore combined for three sacks and four tackles for loss Saturday. Grinch has talked to Murray, an All-Big 12 selection in 2018, about competing for national defensive player of the year honors.
“The past doesn’t define you,” Murray said. “This is a new year, a completely different approach, a completely different mentality for this defense. The coaches have done a phenomenal job of making things simple and it’s allowed me to fly around.
“I’m extremely proud of the way the guys played today.”
Oklahoma’s offense received a lift from wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who had 171 receiving yards and three touchdowns on a career-high 10 receptions. Quarterback Jalen Hurts finished with 235 pass yards and three touchdowns, as well as 131 rushing yards — the most ever by an Oklahoma quarterback against Texas.
But Hurts also fumbled and threw an interception, both turnovers occurring in the red zone. Hurts has thrown interceptions in each of the past three games after none in the first three contests.
“I didn’t put the team in the greatest and best situations,” he said, “but we found ways to overcome, we had each other’s back. … We showed some perseverance, we showed some mental toughness, and overcame a lot of adversity.”
Hurts said it’s “pretty special” to be the winning quarterback in both the Red River Showdown and the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn.
Texas (4-2, 2-1) lost linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch to a dislocated shoulder and safety Chris Brown to a fractured forearm. Wide receiver Collin Johnson is still being evaluated after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit in the second half.
Longhorns coach Tom Herman attributed Texas’ struggles in tackling and penalties to “pressing a little bit.”
“It’s pretty similar to Week 2 [45-38 loss to LSU], where we’re playing a top-five team, we have a chance in the second half, but you played really, really poorly to your standards,” Ehlinger said. “It’s frustrating because it’s right there. You can feel it. You can feel if we just play how we know we can play, that we have a chance to beat these type of teams.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s also a good measuring stick.”