NORMAN — So here we go.
Let the miracle first-year Sooner Alex Grinch is bound to spin take hold.
It’s funny, because that’s the way the guy’s being looked at. It might be funnier, yet, because even if you’e been covering sports most of your life, there’s this temptation to not be cynical, to believe it will really happen.
The way Grinch talks about playing defense, the way the players under his command now speak about playing defense … you know, sometimes all it takes is somebody who believes in what he’s selling, whose players believe in what he’s selling and for whom the thing he’s selling works.
To that end, it was the end of Sooner tight end Grant Calcaterra’s turn at the podium on Monday, the last player to take it before everybody grabbed a bite to eat before Lincoln Riley took his turn at the lectern and I decided I had a follow up to the last question Calcaterra had answered, which happened to be about defense.
Occasionally, the best quotes about one side of the ball are on the other side of the ball.
Does it just feel different, the defense, I asked him. I even said, “like the temperature has changed,” whatever that means, though I’m convinced it makes sense in context.
Calcaterra came through.
“Yeah, absolutely, I remember the first day of spring ball,” he said. “Obviously, you’re not in pads. Their big thing is stripping the ball (and) I’ve never been more beat up after practice than after my first practice this last spring.
“Those guys are trying to be more physical in practice, all 11 guys to the ball. They’ve been more physical and faster. I’m excited for them to show it.”
By the end of what he’d said, it dawned on me again what he’d said at the beginning.
It was the first day of spring ball. They weren’t in pads. They were not yet tackling. And still, whatever was allowed left him “more beat up” than he’d ever experienced in practice?
Why would he lie?
When you’re accustomed to the same old answers, you pay attention to the different and new ones. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard an answer like Calcaterra’s.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Sooner defense, today or the rest of the season, but I know something’s different.
Now, you do, too.
So, for maybe the last time let’s review just how difficult a time OU had last season when the other team snapped the ball.
Also, every time I look this stuff up again, I feel like I’m making it up, because how could it be true?
Of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, OU ranked 114th in total defense, allowing 453.8 yards per game; 101st in scoring defense, allowing 33.3 points per game; 118th in third-down conversion defense, allowing an opponent success rate of 46.4 percent; 113th in fourth-down conversion defense, allowing a 66.7 percent success rate; and finally, despite playing two more games than most of the teams behind it and one more than the others, OU ranked 120th in turnovers gained with 11 all season long.
It’s not possible.
But it happened.
Also Monday, Riley cautioned against thinking it will all be great immediately, recalling his own first steps with the offense.
If you’re not sure what he’s talking about, recall all the trouble OU had at Tennessee in 2015 before winning in double overtime.
He could be right about that. The time to judge real progress might be after the Texas game, a few games after that and when the season’s over.
Still, the big takeaway about what Grinch may offer remains so simple.
If he can only make the Sooner defense not terrible, average, mediocre, run of the mill, middle of the road, reasonable or not embarrassing, he will have set the program on a different course.
Your quarterbacks can’t win Heisman Trophies forever, or finish in the top four of the voting forever, as has happened at OU for four straight seasons.
Eventually, this Sooner offense might simply be great rather than record-breaking.
But if the defense begins showing up going forward, it will be a new day. That new day could well begin today.