NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma bolstered its reputation as an attractive destination for offensive talent when former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts transferred there last week.
The Sooners believe they must become a preferred landing spot for top defensive talent, too, if they hope to break through and challenge Alabama and Clemson for national supremacy.
That's one of the top priorities for new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who was introduced to the media on Sunday. He said Oklahoma had already gotten things started before he arrived with a 2019 recruiting class that includes six four-star signees, according to 247Sports.
"There's a project here that the guys want to be a part of," Grinch said. "That's obvious. The job the staff did ... to bring in an elite group of guys in 2019 to be a member of this defense, despite the fact when they signed that there was not a defensive coordinator, I think speaks to the want-to of guys on a national level to be a part of Oklahoma football. What we need to do (is) obviously make sure we're giving them a product ... that they want to be a part of. And that's our responsibility."
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said he expects Grinch to bring an additional jolt to the school's recruiting success.
"It's not a sell, it's the truth," he said. "The truth is we just got done winning four straight Big 12 championships, in the playoff three of the last four years. On the doorstep of winning this whole thing and we're really close to getting it done. With this guy, we've got one of the premier defensive coordinators in the country here right now that's going to make a big difference for our program."
The Sooners lost in the College Football Playoff semifinals the past two years in part because they gave up 54 points against Georgia two seasons ago and 45 points against Alabama this past season. The Sooners fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops after a regular-season loss to Texas in October, and they continued to struggle under interim coordinator Ruffin McNeill. The Sooners finished 114th out of 129 schools in total defense and 101st in scoring defense.
Grinch said he's not too worried about the numbers. All he sees is potential and high expectations throughout the program.
"From afar, I see elite success has been taking place on a national level. I have a complete understanding of where this program is, and certainly excited about where it's going, but not specific to one side of the ball," he said.
Grinch has a track record of changing things quickly. He spent three years as defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Washington State under Mike Leach from 2015-17 and turned a unit that ranked 99th nationally the season before he arrived into one that ranked 16th overall and ninth in pass defense in 2017. After that, he spent one season at Ohio State and helped the Buckeyes reach the Rose Bowl.
Grinch wants to have a ball-hawking defense that can put the Sooners' high-powered offense in advantageous positions. This past season, the Sooners ranked 120th in takeaways, something he'd like to see change.
"We kind of coined the phrase, 'Takeaways equal victory,'" he said. "It stems from the fact that the sole purpose of the defense to be on the field is to get the ball back to the offense."
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