Radley-Hiles helps turn over Coyotes

Oklahoma's Brendan Radley-Hiles intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown against South Dakota Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman.

NORMAN, Okla. — When Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and head coach Lincoln Riley speak, sophomore defensive back Brendan "Bookie'' Radley-Hiles listens.

Grinch and Riley emphasized the need for takeaways against South Dakota Saturday night after the Sooners didn't force a turnover in a 49-31 win over Houston last week.

Radley-Hiles, a five-star recruit out of Inglewood, Calif., responded by having the first interception — which he returned 70 yards for a touchdown — and the first fumble recovery of his career in a 70-14 rout of the Coyotes.

"It just makes you hungrier,'' Radley-Hiles said about the multiple turnovers. "You get one and you have to make sure that you get another one. Coach Grinch emphasized it a lot this week in practice. We went out there and made sure that we got it for him and we'll make sure that we'll get it again in further weeks.''

Radley-Hiles credited the Sooners' coaches and his teammates for the big game.

"I was in a great position,'' he said. "My coaches put me in a great position to be right there for that play (interception). My D-line forced that play. They made sure that the quarterback got the ball out. The rest was my natural instincts.''

Radley-Hiles natural instincts have come out more since he was moved from strong safety to nickel back.

"He (Grinch) gives me a lot of freedom,'' Radley-Hiles said, "but there's certain rules and regulations that goes with playing that position. He gives me a lot of freedom to use my instincts. It was very fun out there ... very fun ... I expect to have fun with my brothers.''

Radley-Hiles, in the past, had envisioned himself having a game like that.

"Just being able to have that reality strike is a really good experience,'' he said. "I give all the credit to the defensive line and the linebackers for making the job happen for me to be able to execute that opportunity. A lot of it is trusting myself. Honestly, I was seeing plays last year but I wasn't always believing in myself. This year I'm having fun and making plays.''

Radley-Hiles is more comfortable in Grinch's "go fast'' defense.

"You just play,'' he said. "Coach Grinch's defense is very simple. You have three jobs total on a play call. If you understand his defense, you can go from Point A to Point B to Point C very quickly. Once you operate at that speed, you can play downhill and make plays.''

Grinch, after the game, said the Sooners "need playmakers on this defense'' and emphasized Radley-Hiles' improvement needs to continue.

"The message for him is to be confident not comfortable," Grinch said. "And that's something that's not just for him, but all these guys in terms of having some level of success. You gain confidence from that, but this game is hard. This game sneaks up on you if you allow yourself to get too comfortable out there, so that'll be the message for him tomorrow. I'm excited for him and I'm excited for us.''

OU linebacker DaShaun White said Radley-Hiles has made the most improvement of any player on the OU defense.

"Everybody feels good for him, especially because we all know he had a tough year last year,'' White said.

Radley-Hiles described as "electrifying'' the experience he had after recovering a fumble forced by defensive tackle Neville Gallimore on the OU 13 in the second period to halt a Coyote threat.

"Just seeing everybody's fist coming up was a great experience,'' he said. "I was really proud of myself and the team. I was looking for coach Grinch to give him the ball, but I took off in the wrong direction and I couldn't find him. The second time (the interception for a touchdown) I made sure that I would give him that ball.''

The fist up after a turnover is OU's answer to the Miami (Fla.) turnover chain.

"It makes you know that we got the ball back,'' Radley-Hiles said. "Coach Grinch brought that here and we want to make sure that we keep that going. We feed off each other. If I can make a play like that, it strikes a fire in my heart. I try to make sure that I can make those type of plays so I can feed off myself and it speaks for my defense as well.''

The plays didn't come by accident to Radley-Hiles. He played like he practiced as the Sooners used the game against the FCS opponent to try to raise their standards first.

"We made a lot of plays in practice this week and it showed on the field tonight,'' Radley-Hiles said. "Really, it's just the impact that coach Grinch puts on us in practice. We're making plays and flying around and having fun. That carries over to the game. I want to thank the coaches for us putting us in those positions and having the confidence to make those plays. This defense has a standard and we're consistently raising it. Coach (strength and conditioning coach Bennie) Wylie does it in the weight room. Coach Grinch speaks to us in the meeting room about raising our standards. I'm just proud of our defense.''

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Campbell is a former sports writer and current part-time writer for the News & Eagle, enidnews@enidnews.com.

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