College Football Playoff Semifinal #1 Preview and Picks
Who: #1 LSU (13-0) vs. #4 Oklahoma (12-1)
When: 4 p.m., Dec. 28
Line: LSU by 13
LSU steamrolled an overmatched fifth-ranked Georgia team 37-10 in the SEC Championship; Oklahoma squeaked out a 30-23 overtime win against seventh-ranked Baylor in the Big 12 Championship game.
This is LSU’s first time in the College Football Playoff while Oklahoma is making their third appearance in a row.
This match up features the top two scoring offenses in the nation (LSU at 554.4 yards per game compared to Oklahoma’s 554.2), the top two Heisman Trophy finalists (Quarterback’s Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts), and future NFL player’s all over the field.
Let’s get a closer look into this match-up:
WHEN OKLAHOMA HAS THE BALL
The Oklahoma Sooners offense starts and ends with graduate transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Hurts’ story is awesome: In 2016 as a true freshman at Alabama, Hurts won SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a true went 26-2 as a starter and lead Alabama to National Title. He reached a crossroads the next season, when he was benched in the 2017 National Championship game in favor of Tua Tagovailoa (Who won the title, unlike Hurts) In 2019, Hurts decided to transfer to the University of Oklahoma to play with Quarterback Guru Lincoln Riley.
Hurts has seamlessly transitioned into the Sooners offense dominating his graduate transfer season at Oklahoma leading the Big 12 with 376.1 yards of offense per game along with 50 touchdowns leading Oklahoma in rushing and passing.
Hurts and the Oklahoma offense are averging 8.5 points per play so far this season and a large part of that is due to Hurts connection with Bilinitkof Award finalist, receiver CeeDee Lamb (58 catches, 1,208 yards, 12 TD’s). Oklahoma also has a pretty good running back in Kennedy Brooks. Brooks has rushed just times for 976 yards scoring 12 touchdowns.
The X-Factor for Oklahoma is Head Coach Lincoln Riley. Riley is only 35 years old and since arriving in 2015, he is 46-8, 33-3 in the Big 12 and has produced 2 Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks both of whom were picked 1st overall.
ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit detailed what sets him apart:
What makes Lincoln so unique is you’re talking about a guy who has figured out the college game and NFL coaches are coming to visit him. I talked to him a few months ago and he said he used to have four or five NFL guys coming in, now he’s got over 30 guys coming in to figure out what they’re doing. So you have not only one of the best offensive coaches in college, but in football, period.
This offense will be countered by an LSU defense that didn’t look great in the early part of the season as Collegefootballnews.com’s Pete Fuitak details here:
It was if the battle against Ole Miss was the enough-is-enough moment. Clemson had one of those against North Carolina, and LSU had the back-to-back games against Alabama and Ole Miss on the road allowing 1,155 yards combined in the two games. Ever since then, this has been the D everyone was waiting for.
Arkansas did next to nothing the week after, Texas A&M was shut down to a dead stop, and Georgia was never allowed to play in the SEC Championship. It all started with more pressure from the front.
The defense recovered and finished the season allowing only 21.2 points and 343.3 yards up per game. Their pressure up front accounted for 33 sacks on the season. You can’t talk about the defense without discussing their secondary.
LSU’s strength lies in their secondary and is led by both All-American’s safety Grant Delpit and freshman cornerback Derek Stingey Jr. Stingley leads the SEC in interceptions, passes broken up and defended while having 34 tackles while Delpit has 56 tackles and two interceptions on the year.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN
As I mentioned before, this is Oklahoma’s third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff. In their past two trips they fell behind (31-17) and (31-10) by halftime. How will Lincoln Riley adjust this time around? Hurts will have to get the rushing game going early and often which will open up big plays and quick scores.
On the other hand, this is a huge opportunity for LSU to get into Oklahoma’s backfield early and often. LSU’s mission should be to make Jalen Hurts very uncomfortable by forcing him into several 3rd and long’s and possible LSU interceptions.
KEY STAT: Oklahoma’s offense is giving up 75.08 penalties per game and has a -7 turnover rate on the season. (This does not bold well for them.)
ADVANTAGE: LSU Defense
WHEN LSU HAS THE BALL
LSU’s squad begins and ends with Heisman Trophy Quarterback Joe Burrow.
Joe’s story is also amazing: Burrow was recruited by Ohio State and joined the team in 2015. He joined a quarterback room consisting of three future pros’ (JT Barrett, Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller). Even though former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer originally motivated him by saying, ‘You’re a D-II quarterback, you can’t throw,” Burrow kept fighting and impressed the coaches enough to almost earn a back up spot. However, due to a freak injury, he had to sit out the 2016 season.
A hard worker and coaches son, Joe Burrow said he wanted to go to a program that needed him. Joe decided to transfer to LSU to compete in the SEC; He was immediately was beloved by his teammates. Joe and was called a tough SOB as shown from last year’s bowl game victory:
Connors took Burrow down with a blindside hit. A dirty hit. Burrow was decleated and driven into the ground. Moore turned the poor throw into a 93-yard touchdown return, and suddenly, LSU was down 14-3 early, looking like it might be the latest Power Five team taken down in a major bowl by giant killer UCF.
On the sideline, Orgeron screamed at his offensive staff to get backup quarterback Myles Brennan ready to play. Burrow slowly pulled himself off the turf, walked to the sideline and got in Orgeron’s face.
“You’re not taking me out of this game!” he screamed.
Then he went out and completed 19 of his next 28 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns—and no more interceptions—and a depleted LSU team beat UCF and wrapped up its first 10-win season since 2013.
“We put two full IV bags in him after the game,” Orgeron says. “He’s not one of those fake tough guys. He walks it every day
This season Joe Borrow posted one of the most successful seasons that the NCAA has ever seen from a quarterback.
Burrow is second in the nation with 4,715 passing yards, is 1st in the nation with Touchdowns (48) and only has 6 interceptions on the season. Burrow has led LSU to five top 10 wins including a domination of #4 Georgia in the SEC Championship. His dominance led to the Heisman trophy and an almost certain 1st pick in the NFL draft. Check out Burrow’s Heisman speech- you can see why his teammates and coaches love him:
Burrow couldn’t have done this alone, though. LSU’s offense has been dominant this season, first in the NCAA with 554.3 yards per game. Burrow had the chance to throw to the top receiver in college football, JaMarr Chase, who was first nationally in yards (1,498) and TD’s (18). His other receiver Justin Jefferson was almost as good with 88 receptions for 1,207 yards, 14 TD’s while averaging 13.7 yards per receptions. He also had a dominant run game. The team also had a dominant rush attack in Clyde Edwards-Helaire. This junior on the season had 197 attempts for 1,290 yards, 16 touchdowns averging 6.5 yards per carry (It’s questionable if he plays, however- more on this later).
This is all for a team that has a history of horrible Quarterback play.
As you can see, it all started with the decision to hire Alex Grinch the former co-defensive Coordinator for Urban Meyer at Ohio State in 2018. Grinch preaches a “speed D” which all starts with the following:
“It first starts with mentality,” he said. “You can have the greatest schemes in the world on any three sides of the ball, if you don’t pair it with the right mentality, you got no chance.”
Grinch’s message to the defense focused on a series of “one-week evaluations” rather than looking at the collective body of work.
“It’s [like] golf,” he said. “You birdie the first hole and triple-bogey the second, it doesn’t do you a whole lot of good on the scoreboard for a round of golf. It’s the same thing for our sport.”
The Sooners did take a few hits prior to this game. Oklahoma suspended three players for this game including their best pass rusher Ronnie Perkins. Perkins has 28 solo tackles on the season with 6 sacks and 13.5 tackles or loss. In addition, Oklahoma starting safety Delarrin Turner-Yell broke his collarbone in practice. Turner-Yell started all 13 games this season with 75 tackles, 5.5 of those were for loss.
To counter this, the defensive captain and team All Big 12 selection at middle linebacker, Kenneth Murray must step up even more. Murray, a future 1st round pick leads the team with 65 solo tackles and 4 sacks on the season. Murray calls the players that are out “brothers” and they have to “go out a play hard for them” preaching a “next guy has to step up” mentality.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Oklahoma should be applauded for their improvement on defense, first of all. Their competition level in the Big 12, however, is nowhere near the competition LSU had to face in the SEC. LSU possibly losing their running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a possible huge hit, but LSU does have backup options in freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price (60 carries for 270 yards, 6 TD’s) and John Emery (36 carries, 182 yards, three touchdowns). We must not also forget that Joe Burrow is also a threat to run with 289 yards on the season with a long of 22 yards.
Oklahoma hasn’t seen an offense on the level of LSU. Not having their best pass rusher is huge as Burrow will have more time to throw to his insanely good receivers. I would have expected Burrow to chooke at one point this season but he has not. If he hasn’t choked against superior SEC copetition, I don’t expect him to choke here.
KEY STAT: Joe Burrow has a 78.8 completion percentage on the season, which is higher than Colt McCoy’s NCAA record of 76.7%.
Advantage: LSU Offense
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
OKLAHOMA: Quarterback Jalen Hurts
One fact I didn’t bring up was that Hurts has played multiple times against LSU. In 2016, Alabama won 10-0 and Hurts rushed for 124 yards and 1 TD. In 2017, Hurts tallied one rushing and one passing touchdown in a win vs. LSU.
Hurts is aware that Oklahoma is a clear underdog in this game and he doesn’t care:
LSU: Running Back Clyde Edwards-Helaire
As I stated above, it looks like Edwards-Helaire may not play. LSU’s Head Coach, however, still sees the possibility:
“Obviously, if Clyde’s ready to play, we’re going to let him play,” Orgeron said. “But he’s a game-time decision. Do I think he plays? Yes, but how much he plays, I don’t know. He’s not 100%, obviously.”
LSU is more than able to overcome this injury, but it sure would be nice to have a player with the stats of Edwards-Helaire on the field.
NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS IN THIS GAME
Jalen Hurts courtesy of Matt Miller from Bleacher Report
Jalen Hurts is one of the hardest evaluations in the 2020 class. He’s graded with a Round 2-3 designation, but that will likely vary wildly among NFL teams, depending on their scheme and what they expect of their quarterback… If you’re a franchise that’s more set on winning with a spread-it-out passing attack and wants to take deep shots downfield, Hurts isn’t the best fit. But as we’re seeing in Baltimore and Arizona, if a team is willing to cater the offense to the strengths of the quarterback, beautiful things can happen.
CeeDee Lamb also courtesy of Matt Miller:
Pro Player Comparison: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
NFL Team Fits: Cardinals, Jaguars, Titans
I don’t have a vote for the Biletnikoff Award, but if I did, it would go to Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb without a second thought for any other receiver in college football. Lamb has been absolutely amazing as a route-runner and yards-after-catch playmaker in an Oklahoma offense that has relied heavily on the junior receiver under a quarterback who isn’t as prolific as Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray before him.
Pro Player Comparison: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
NFL Team Fits: Bengals, Dolphins, Saints
Joe Burrow is simply fantastic. His play in the pocket is poised, athletic, patient and smart. His throwing motion is quick with the ability to dial up speed when needed and a soft touch when the pass calls for it. Hence the Garoppolo comparison—Burrow can beat you with his arm, with his ability to extend the play in the pocket, or with his legs as a runner by design or when the play breaks down.
Many have and will continue to question Burrow’s play as a “one year wonder,” but going back to the loss against Alabama last year, he’s been flawless. And in the 2019 season alone, Burrow has won at Texas, at Alabama and at home against Florida and Auburn. Those are four big wins that should quiet doubters about how well he could play against future NFL talent.
It appears Burrow is a shoe-in for the #1 pick in the draft to the Cincinnati Bengals:
LSU Safety Grant Delpit
LSU’s Grant Delpit looked like a top-10 player before the season began, but he’s played a little timidly this year. That doesn’t affect his talent, though, and NFL scouts will see when evaluating his 2018 tape and his testing times that Delpit is still a Round 1 player with the potential to become a Derwin James-type safety.
LSU is on another level from the other opponents Oklahoma has faced this season. Coach Riley will keep Oklahoma in the game until mid-second quarter where Burrow will go crazy with 2-3 touchdowns. LSU pressure will cause Hurts to make a turnover or two in the second and third quarters. Oklahoma will be down big and come back with a few touchdown’s in the last ten minutes. (And will upset a lot of betters…)
LSU Advances to the National Title Game:
LSU 48, Oklahoma 37
- / 1 year ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.