Oklahoma football: Sooner defense gives glimpse to mentality shift in spring game

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU's Justin Broiles runs with the ball after an interception during the Spring Game, Friday, April 12, 2019, at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

NORMAN, Okla. — A deep throw via Tanner Mordecai sailed over his targeted receiver’s head and landed in Justin Broiles’ hands.

The sophomore safety caught himself in a bit of a daze after recording the only interception of Oklahoma’s 2019 spring game Friday evening. Although, Broiles, an Oklahoma City native, knew he needed to quickly snap out it.

“I had to realize, it's over with, it's in the past,” Broiles said. “Now it's time to make another play or I could end up on somebody's highlight tape, chasing somebody down and missing a tackle. It's just playing the next play."

A new defensive philosophy is blooming under first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. A short memory is encouraged and consistently making plays is a requirement.

The Sooners defense ranked 111th out of 129 FBS programs last season in interceptions and 113th in fumbles recovered. OU’s players know that level of production won’t be tolerated under a new defensive regime, and they hoped they got that message across in front of the 50,228 spectators at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

"If you ain't strippin' at that ball, it's an issue,” Broiles said. “If you're not getting a turnover, it's an issue. (Grinch is) going to let us know it's not okay to go through a practice and call it a good practice without turnovers."

OU achieved its mission by creating two turnovers — Broiles’ first-half pick and Brendan Radley-Hiles’ second-half fumble recovery.

"It felt great," said cornerback Tre Brown, who recorded two tackles and a pass breakup.

"It was a good atmosphere out there, especially with playing a night game. I feel like that gave us a lot of energy. We were excited to play and show everybody what the new defense is like. It looked pretty good."

Brown, who's working toward becoming a leader, was hungry to prove a point with treating every bit of Friday as an actual game.

He and the rest of OU's players have heard plenty about last season's shortcomings, so the spring game was an opportunity that felt important to Brown.

"I just wanted to show the fans that I stepped up and for everybody that we improved," Brown said. "We're going to be a lot better than last year."

The introduction of new faces on OU’s coaching staff has helped Brown and the defensive unit regroup after its 2018 performance.

OU coach Lincoln Riley added Grinch and two other new assistants — cornerbacks coach Roy Manning and inside linebackers coach Brian Odom — to his staff, which has sparked an evident mentality shift.

Broiles said his group feels more calm and relaxed, which he personally attributes to rediscovering a love for the game.

“When your coach has that energy (of loving the game), it's a whole different feeling when you go out there and play,” Broiles said. “When your coach is behind you, your coach is riding for you, it's a whole lot different.

“Don't get me wrong, don't twist my words, I'm not saying the last coaches weren’t, it's just a different energy. It's a new face."