The Oklahoman

UT’s Sarkisian runs into OU’s Riley, Grinch at last

- Berry Tramel Columnist The Oklahoman USA TODAY NETWORK

Steve Sarkisian keeps missing Lincoln Riley and Alex Grinch.

That changes Saturday in the Cotton Bowl.

The new Longhorn coach makes his OU-Texas debut amid the revelry of the State Fair of Texas.

Sarkisian has no OU-Texas ties – he played quarterbac­k at Brigham Young, forged a career on the West Coast, then moved down South to Alabama and the Atlanta Falcons.

But Sark said all the right things Monday when asked about the rivalry.

“I’m fired up for the game,” Sarkisian said. “I love the pomp and pageantry of college football. I love the history, I love the nostalgia.

“To think this is the 117th time these two schools are meeting, that’s a crazy number. From that aspect of it, the State Fair, all of that stuff, I’m looking forward to.”

Some have said Sarkisian was rather robotic when talking about OU-Texas, but in my limited experience with him, Sark seems quite robotic when talking about anything. So it’s nothing personal against OU-Texas.

Maybe Sark has been handed talking points about the rivalry. But when talking about Grinch and Riley at a Monday press conference, Sarkisian’s words rang true. Like he knew what he was talking about.

On Riley: “Most notably in his time in Oklahoma, I think that he does a good job of fitting his scheme to the players that he has, most notably the quarterbac­k. And I think that’s something that a lot of guys as coordinato­rs or playcaller­s struggle with, because it’s about their scheme.

“He’s done a masterful job with the quarterbac­ks that he’s had of tweaking and adjusting his scheme to the skill set that best his players and/or his quarterbac­k.”

Riley and Sarkisian have not been matched in a game. When the 2018 Sooners played Alabama in the Orange Bowl, Sark was with the Falcons in the National Football League.

So Sarkisian’s Riley experience comes from film study and general profession­al insight.

But Sark seems to have Riley pegged.

“I think he does a nice job of getting the advantage throws,” Sarkisian said. “They believe in running the football, and I think he does a nice job week to week of taking formations, and then having second-, third-layer plays off the original play from that formation. So everything is very complement­ary.

“They set things up really well. He does a nice job of calling it that way, and it makes it taxing on your own playcaller on defense, as well as your players.”

Sarkisian also hasn’t crossed paths with Grinch, Riley’s defensive coordinato­r.

Grinch was defensive coordinato­r at Washington State from 2015-17, which means he missed Sark’s time as Washington’s head coach (2009-13). Sarkisian was head coach at Southern Cal in 2014 and part of 2015, but the Trojans fired Sark for substance issues in October 2015, and USC wasn’t scheduled to play Washington State that season anyway.

“Coach Grinch does a great job,” Sark said. “He’s done it for quite some time in his days at Washington State and Ohio State. And now here.

“I think they’ve built this roster to what fits his defense, which is predicated on speed.

They’re very active. They’re active up front. They’ve recruited players that can cover and cover well and be sticky. And then it allows him to call it the way he wants to call it. So it’s been an impressive transforma­tion for when he first came on board to how they’re playing now.”

OU insiders couldn’t have described Grinch better.

And Saturday, Sarkisian finally goes head-to-head with Grinch and Riley.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1.

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