No. 4 Oklahoma seeks defensive consistency vs. S. Dakota

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) hands the ball off to Oklahoma running back Trey Sermon (4) against Houston during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — There were signs early in Oklahoma’s opener against Houston that the Sooners defense might finally be ready to make an impact.

Turns out there is plenty of work ahead.

Oklahoma hired Alex Grinch as its defensive coordinator in the offseason, hoping the unit would generate at least some support for the dynamic offense. In Sunday’s opener, the defense forced two three-and-outs to start the game and used relentless pressure to help limit the Cougars to 10 points in the first half. The Sooners then gave up 21 points in the second half of a 49-31 win.

“It says something about you as a competitor, and obviously, it’s our responsibility as coaches to make sure that we have elite competitors out there,” Grinch said. “So again, it falls back on us. I didn’t think we finished particularly well.”

The fourth-ranked Sooners (1-0) seek a more complete performance Saturday against South Dakota (0-1).

“There’s a lot that’s got to grow because we expect to play like we did during the first quarter and a half,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “We expect to play like that the whole time. And we can.”

Strides were made against Houston. There was a more aggressive attitude and tackling was better. A pass defense that was dead last in the nation last season gave up just 167 yards in the air against Houston.

Oklahoma was especially impressive up front, with dominant performances by defensive linemen Neville Gallimore and Ronnie Perkins.

“Those guys were phenomenal,” Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “Nev (Gallimore) was living in the backfield, constantly creating disruption. When you’ve got a d-line that’s getting after it up front, it makes everything easier. Really proud of the way those guys played.”

RAT POISON?

South Dakota has played an FBS program each year since 2010. The Coyotes beat Minnesota in 2010 and Bowling Green in 2017. South Dakota led Kansas State 24-12 heading into the fourth quarter last year before losing 27-24. Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts said Oklahoma will be focused.

“We’re going to treat every game that same,” he said. “We’ll let y’all talk about the rat poison of it. We’re going to focus on what we need to focus on and try to get better each week and fix our mistakes from last week.”

BEAMER BUTTED

Oklahoma assistant coach Shane Beamer took a head butt from fullback Jeremiah Hall last week and ended up with stitches.

“There were so many people hitting my head, and me and Beamer normally meet up after every drive,” Hall said. “For like five minutes, Beamer went missing. He came back with a gash on his head. I was like, what happened, coach? He said, ‘you.'”

Hall heard all about the head butt after the game.

“My family back home keeps saying, ‘Why did you head butt your coach?'” he said. “My momma was like, ‘You better be careful next time.'”

HURTS PASSING GAME

Hurts posted 508 total yards and six touchdowns in his first game since transferring from Alabama. He passed for 332 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 176 yards and three more scores. He completed 20 of 23 passes, but he failed to connect on some deep throws. That is one of several things he wants to fix.

“I think we just need to be more crisp and sharpen up some things and be better in our execution,” he said. “We went out there and kind of left some money on the table at times. We can’t afford that. We need to take advantage of every opportunity.”

WIDE AWAKE

Oklahoma receiver Charleston Rambo said last month that the media was “sleeping on me.” Not anymore. He had three catches for 105 yards, highlighted by a 56-yard touchdown reception. With Oklahoma trying to fine-tune its deep passing game, the Sooners could test South Dakota’s secondary with Rambo’s elite speed.

CARRY DISTRIBUTION

Kennedy Brooks led the Sooners win rushing as a freshman last season and was a preseason All-Big 12 first-team running back, but he only had four carries for 46 yards in the opener. Trey Sermon had 11 carries for 91 yards and Rhamondre Stevenson had six carries for 41 yards and a touchdown. It will be worth watching to see if Brooks’ touches go up, or if Stevenson becomes a regular part of the rotation.