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'Tis the season to believe the Sooners can upset LSU

December 26, 2019 ▪ By Ray Dozier

Each time the Sooners have qualified for the College Football Playoffs, they lost a conference game but rebounded to capture the Big 12 Championship. This year, they lost to Kansas State and rallied to claim their fifth straight league title. A 30-23 overtime victory over Baylor on December 7 earned OU the fourth seed in this year’s playoff.

Oklahoma (12-1) will meet No. 1 Louisiana State (13-0) in the first semifinal game at 3 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.

The Sooners have to avoid embarrassment on the playoff stage as they have in the last three appearances. Last year, Alabama jumped to a 28-0 lead in the game’s first 17 minutes. OU outscored the Crimson Tide 34-17 the rest of the way — too little, too late.

Two years ago, in the playoff, OU held a 31-14 lead over Georgia, then the wheels fell off the Sooner Schooner as the Bulldogs outscored OU 40-17 en route to a 54-48 overtime victory.

In their first CFP appearance, the Sooners were blown out 37-17 in 2015. OU took the kickoff and marched 75 yards for a 7-0 lead. Oklahoma, later in the first period, had a chance for a 14-3 lead by driving to the Tigers’ 27. Oklahoma’s Dimitri Flowers was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The ball was moved back to the Clemson 42, and the Sooners floundered and were forced to punt. The Tigers outscored OU 34-10 in the final three quarters.

This year’s Oklahoma and LSU offenses are ranked in the top five in the country. The Tigers are third with 47.8 points per game, while OU is No. 5 with 43.2 ppg. LSU leads the nation with 7,206 total yards, one more yard than the second-ranked Sooners.

The Tigers come into Saturday’s matchup with a plethora of awards. QB Joe Burrow has earned a handful of honors, including the Heisman Trophy. A transfer from Ohio State this season, Burrow has completed 78 percent of his passes for 362.7 yards per game with 48 TDs and 6 INTs. His primary target is Ja’Marr Chase, this year’s Biletnikoff Award winner. Chase leads the nation with 1,498 yards (73 receptions) and 18 TDs.

Fellow wideout Justin Jefferson has more catches (88), but fewer yards 1,207 and 14 touchdowns. The Tigers are good at pounding the rock (167.5 ypg), and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has 1,290 yards and 16 TDs. Edwards-Helaire suffered a hamstring injury last Tuesday and his status for the Peach Bowl in unknown. His backups, Chris Curry and Tyrion Davis-Price have combined for 369 yards and six touchdowns (all by Davis-Price).

If Edwards-Helaire is unable to go on Saturday, this would be an opportunity for the Sooners to heavily rely on the pass rush and force Burrow to make errant decisions. But, Oklahoma has a problem as three players are suspended for the Peach Bowl. One of them is DE Ronnie Perkins, who has 13.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 6 sacks. Perkin’s backup, freshman Marcus Stripling, has played in every game this season, logging 6 tackles and a sack. Alex Grinch could turn to Jalen Redmond, currently, a backup DT, who has played the end position in high school, and occasionally at OU.

Oklahoma safety Delarrin Turner-Yell suffered a broken collarbone in practice last week, which dealt the Sooners’ defense another blow. DTY’s replacement, Justin Broiles, has game experience, including five starts in 2018. Burrow and Co will test him.

The Tigers’ defense gave up 21.1 points (No. 27) and 341.3 yards (No. 32) per game this year. LSU boasts two All-Americans in the secondary — safety Grant Delpit and corner Derek Stingley Jr. Delpit is this year’s recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award. Delpit has recorded 56 tackles, (3 for loss), 2 interceptions, and broke up 6 passes. The freshman Stingley leads the Tigers with 6 INTs and 15 breakups.

Linebacker Jacob Phillips leads LSU with 97 tackles. All-SEC defensive end Rashard Lawrence has 5 tackles behind the line, including 2.5 sacks. All-SEC corner Kristian Fulton has logged 31 tackles and broke up 12 passes.

OU should run the ball and try to control the clock and keep Burrow off the field. Kennedy Brooks is the team’s second-leading rusher behind QB Jalen Hurts. Brooks has rushed for 976 yards and 5 touchdowns, but 593 of those yards and 3 of the TDs have come in the last six contests. Rhamondre Stevenson is among those suspended. He has been a tremendous asset as Brooks’ backup, running for 8 yards per carry, plus he scored the winning touchdown in the Big 12 Championship Game. T.J. Pledger is likely to see action in Stevenson’s stead. Pledger has 8 carries for 72 yards this year and hasn’t run the ball in the last four games. He played in 11 games in 2018 and rushed for 6 yards a pop.

Getting Cee Dee Lamb, a Biletnikoff finalist and consensus All-American, in space will be vital for the Sooners. Lamb has a better reception average (20.8-20.5) than Chase. Hurts has been in some huge games in his career, and he must not turn over the pigskin, which has been his bane in many games this year. He’s been responsible for 4,889 yards and 50 touchdowns this season — a dangerous weapon if he can manage the offense against a stout defense.

The Sooners can’t get into a hole greater than a touchdown. Being a heavy underdog should give the Sooners plenty of motivation. But to beat the Tigers, Oklahoma must not have any turnovers nor stupid penalties. The defense must disguise its coverage and utilize stunts. The D must put the heat on Burrow and make him uncomfortable.

Not many are giving the OU much of a chance to win this game. LSU has had a superior season. The Sooners need to be motivated by this lack of respect. They weren’t respected 19 Years ago. Oklahoma was a 10.5 underdog to Florida State, yet won its seventh national crown. Six years ago, Alabama was a 16.5-point favorite, but the Sooners pulled off the upset. This time, OU is a 13.5 dog to the Tigers.

Sooner Magic could come into play to help Oklahoma to victory. OU has won seven national championships, and four of those teams were quarterbacked by a guy with the initials “JH.” Jimmy Harris won back-to-back titles in 1955-56. Jamelle Holieway led Oklahoma to the 1985 NC, and Josh Heupel did it in 2000. Could Jalen Hurts continue the tradition? With that said. Hurts will be the fifth national championship QB for the Sooners. Christmas is not the only event where you’ve got to believe.

Sooners 34, Tigers 30.

Fast Facts

  • The series is tied at 1-1; OU won the 1950 Sugar Bowl and LSU won the 2004 Sugar Bowl.
  • OU is 29-22-1 (.567) in bowl games, including two straight losses; 0-0 in the Peach Bowl.
  • LSU is 26-23-1 (.520) in bowl games; 5-1 in the Peach Bowl.
  • Lincoln Riley’s record: 36-5 (.878) overall; 0-0 vs. LSU; 6-3 on neutral fields 11-3 vs. ranked opponents; 0-2 in CFP.
  • LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s record: 54-36 (.600); at LSU: 38-9 (.809); 0-0 vs. OU; 6-1 on neutral fields; 25-7 vs. ranked foes.
  • LSU is 24-4 when ranked No. 1 (AP poll); 5-10 vs. No. 4-ranked teams
  • OU is 45-9-1 when ranked No. 4; 7-15-2 vs. No. 1-ranked teams.
  • OU is 1-2 when ranked No. 4 when playing a No. 1 team.
  • LSU is 2-0 in games played on December 28.
  • OU has never played in a game on December 28.

Articles by Ray Dozier