For the first time in its six-year existence, LSU is in the College Football Playoff. The Tigers are No. 1 in the land and the players have spent the past few weeks racking up all kinds of postseason accolades.
But the award circuit is over; the playoff games are on the horizon. If LSU wants to make it to New Orleans to play for a fourth national championship, it’ll have to go through the No. 4 ranked Oklahoma Sooners.
Oklahoma is the Big 12 champion and have made the playoffs four times. They are led by former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts who is certainly no stranger to LSU nor the playoffs. To get us better acquainted with the Sooners, Allen Kenney, aka @BlatantHomerism, dropped by to provide some insight.
1. LSU is plenty familiar with Jalen Hurts. In two games against LSU, he’s 21-43 for 290 yards a touchdown and an interception, while rushing for 158 yards an two scores. How has Oklahoma taken to Hurts lone season in Norman? What’s been the best thing about him?
Bringing in Hurts represented a win-now decision by Lincoln Riley. Rolling with any other quarterback on the roster in January would have equated to punting on this season. OU opted to retool its offense around Hurts’ skill set for a season rather than throwing a young QB out to take his lumps, a gamble that Riley correctly assumed could end with another Big 12 title for his trophy case.
Hurts seems to have imparted a Nick Saban-like level of focus and attention to the OU program in his one year in Norman. That may not be a bonus in the long run, but it’s his biggest mark on the program.
2. Oklahoma is suspending three players from the Peach Bowl, and the biggest name that will be withheld from play is defensive linemen Ronnie Perkins. Slowing down Joe Burrow and the LSU offense is difficult enough, how will the Sooners try and pull off that feat without its best defensive linemen?
They don’t have much choice other hoping that their reserves are up to the challenge. Perkins plays the strong side defensive end position, which means underclassmen Marcus Stripling and Isaiah Thomas will try to make up for his absence. LaRon Stokes, a part-time starter at defensive tackle, will also fill in at Perkins’ spot.
I wouldn’t expect anything exotic in terms of blitz packages to generate more pressure on Burrow.
3. CeeDee Lamb vs. Derek Stingley Jr. One of America’s best wide receivers going up against one of America’s best corners. Who’s got the edge?
Lamb probably has a slight advantage based on his maturity and physical development to this point. That doesn’t mean Stingley can’t stop Lamb, though, because Hurts’ limitations as a thrower prevent OU from taking full advantage of the receiver’s talents.
4. The Tiger defense was infamously torched on the ground by Ole Miss’ John Rhys Plumlee. Is that something Lincoln Riley is looking to recreate with Hurts?
I don’t know how much of Ole Miss’ success with the quarterback running game will translate to this matchup. The Tigers were nursing a big lead when Plumlee did most of his damage, and LSU has come around on defense since then. Hurts’ legs will play a big role in the game plan because they have all year, but he’s not going to steamroll the LSU D.
5. LSU could be without running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and will have to rely on a pair of true freshman running backs and a redshirt freshman. How would Edwards-Helaire’s absence change the defensive approach by Oklahoma?
You could make a good case that OU should tailor its defensive attack to encourage the Tigers to run the ball more with Edwards-Helaire possibly sitting out. That would involve packages with more defensive backs and not overcrowding the line of scrimmage.
At the end of the day, OU would rather see Burrow handing the ball off than the Heisman Trophy winner flinging the ball around.
6. Oklahoma’s defense is so vastly improved this year. The Sooners are top-25 in the nation in both yards per game and passing yards per game. But starting safety Delarrin Turner-Yell broke his collarbone. What kind of coverages will Alex Grinch be cooking up to try and stop LSU?
The LSU receiving corps presents easily the biggest challenge OU has faced this season, so it’s tough to gauge how Grinch will design the coverage schemes on the back end. The Sooners have solid cover corners in Tre Brown and Parnell Motley, but they will struggle to match the physicality of the Tigers playing strictly one-on-one. Finding ways to help them out with safeties over the top will be critical.
Keep an eye on what OU’s linebackers are doing versus passing formations. Using them in drop zones could help take a little pressure off the safeties in the middle of the field and in the flats to free them up for bracket coverage. The trade-off would come in terms of the Sooners’ capacity to get pressure on Burrow.
7. Oklahoma has been pretty careless with the football. OU has a -7 turnover margin. What gives?
There are two sides to turnover margin. Part of that deficit has to do with Hurts’ ball security, no doubt about it. Yet, the Sooners haven’t forced many turnovers of their own this season. That has been a theme for the program for years.
Grinch made it a point of emphasis when he took over the defense, but OU defenders still struggled to create takeaways for most of the season.
8. Why have the Sooners struggled to look like the better team the past two months? Four of its last five wins have been by seven points or less. Why has Oklahoma been unable to impose its will on conference opponents its clearly better than?
The turnover issue you mentioned earlier played a big part here. OU wasn’t getting them, and Hurts was giving them out too frequently. Winning games as consistently as OU has when losing the turnover battle so frequently is no easy feat.
Taking a step back, though, this OU team didn’t have many of the same advantages enjoyed by previous editions. The QB didn’t get to campus until January and is a completely different type of player than Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. The offensive line replaced four starters and dealt with injuries all year. Factor in a completely different defensive scheme, too.
We’re talking about a team that was almost put together on the fly and didn’t exactly have a clear identity throughout the year. It was always going to be a little rocky in terms of chemistry. That was exposed in the back half of the year when OU faced the meat of its schedule.