Looking inside the numbers for LSU-Oklahoma national semifinal

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LSU in Mercedes-Benz Stadium
LSU returns to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, site of their SEC Championship win over Georgia, the face Oklahoma for a spot in the national championship game (Photo: William Anthony).

The LSU-Oklahoma contest in the Peach Bowl has the nation’s attention beyond its importance as a national semifinal. Joe Burrow’s Heisman campaign in leading the unbeaten, high-scoring Tigers has made the team the new darlings of college football.

When the No. 1 Tigers and No. 4 Sooners tangle, expect plenty of scoring. LSU averages 47.7 points per game while Oklahoma has posted 43.2 points per outing.

Most know about LSU’s dynamic spread offense and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s complex scheme with a 3-4 base.

The fast-paced Sooner attack ran 93 plays against Baylor in their regular season meeting and 85 versus TCU. The multiple scheme attack averages 554.2 yards each game. OU’s 3-3-5 alignment on defense under Alex Grinch features great athleticism. Grinch coached under Urban Meyer at Ohio State.

Naturally, eyes are on the defenses to come up with stops. LSU has allowed 21.1 points per game while Oklahoma has given up 24.5 per contest. Expect both to give up over their averages even if they play well. The offenses are just that good.

Even though Burrow and the Tigers pass for 390 yards per game, Oklahoma is dangerous with 303 yards on average with quarterback Jalen Hurts’ leading the country with 16.4 yards per completion.

LSU has rushed for 170 yards per game but Oklahoma led by the mobile Hurts racks up 251 yards on average.

Pass defense LSU allowing 221.5 yards through the air, Oklahoma 198.5 yards. The Sooners bring balance but much like the Tigers rely heavily on the great talents of their signal caller.

Both teams shine on third downs offensively, converting half the time. Both offenses average an elite yards per play rate (LSU at 7.8 and OU at 8.2). In the red zone, the SEC champs are deadly efficient at 97 percent scoring rate while the Big XII champs are at 91.3%.

Many have pointed out the strides OU has made on defense, and the numbers back that case. LSU allows 345 yards/game but the Sooners have given up just 330.6 yards.

Both teams have come up with around three sacks per game (LSU with 33 on the season and Oklahoma with 35) while the more pass-happy Tigers are a bit more susceptible to sacks (27 allowed) and the Sooners (21).

Turnovers tend to make the difference in most games, and the LSU defense has been better at coming up with interceptions (16 this year) than Oklahoma (7). In fact, turnover margin points heavily in favor of the Tigers (plus-8) while the Sooners rank 110th in FBs in that key category (minus-7).

Avoiding costly penalties is another key to success, and LSU has committed 15 less than Oklahoma this season (93-78).

This game will center around two transfer quarterbacks who topped the Heisman voting this year. Burrow in 26 starts at LSU has completed 20 or more passes 16 times during his career but his gigantic leap forward in year two with the Tigers is the stuff of legend. He’s racked up 4,715 yards and 48 touchdowns with only six intercpetions while completing 77.9 percent of his tosses. Hurts has tossed for 3,634 yards and 32 touchdowns with seven interceptions with a 71.8% rate of completions.

Although Burrow is dangerously mobile, Hurts is the true definition of a dual threat, totaling 1,255 yards as a runner with 18 additional scores. Even tough Oklahoma produced the previous two Heisman winners (Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray), it is Hurts who is 35 yards shy of overtaking Jack Mildren’s school record rushing total for a quarterback from the 1971 season and three touchdowns away from jumping over Mildren in that single-season category.

As for the running game, the questionable availability of Clyde Edwards-Helaire (hamstring) changes things for LSU. The junior running back is a superb blocker and receiver who has run for 1,290 yards (6.5 yard average) and 16 touchdowns while adding another 399 yards and a score as a receiver. The Tigers have three talented but inexperienced options to replace Edwards-Helaire, and it would certainly need to be a group effort.

Oklahoma counters with Kenneth Brooks, a sophomore with 976 yards and five scores this year. Rhamondre Stevenson, the No 2 back, is suspended for contest after accounting for 516 yards and six touchdowns. The Sooners do not utilize their backs as receivers much.

Biletnikoff winner Ja’Mar Chase has 73 grabs for 1,489 yards (20.5 yards per catch) and 18 touchdowns. He is joined by Justin Jefferson (88 catches for 1,207 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Terrace Marshall (34 catches, 545 yards, 10 TD’s) and tight end Thaddeus Moss (38 catches, 435 yards and one score) as Burrow’s main weapons.

Oklahoma’s air attack is led by a projected first rounder, junior CeeDee Lamb, who has 58 catches for 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns. Sophomore starter Charleston Rambo (42 catches fir 734 yards and 5 TD’s) is the other top receiving target. Lamb has 38 career starts with a signature outing this season against rival Texas (10 catches, 171 yards and three electrifying touchdowns.

Linebacker Jacob Phillips paces the Tigers with 97 stops but the versatile Jacoby Stevens with 82 tackles and five sacks has three SEC defensive player of the week honors for his efforts from the safety spot. Freshman phenom Derek Stingley Jr. with six interceptions would likely already be a first round pick if he were allowed to enter the draft.

Sooners linebacker Kenneth Murray leads the team with 95 stops, 16 tackles for loss and four sacks. He has 318 career stops and 33 TFL. Murray had an astounding performance against Army’s triple-option offense in 2018 with 28 tackles, the most in a game for any FBS player since 2000. He also tallied 15 tackles versus Alabama in the CFB semifinals last year.

Losing edge rusher Ronnie Perkins to suspension hurts Oklahoma. Replacing his production (six sacks and 13.5 TFL this season) will be a challenge. Freshman end Jalen Richmond, who has 19 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 9.5 TFL, will assume a bigger role.

Parnell Motley, a senior cornerback, is a physical ballhawk with 34 tackles, 11 passes broken up and four forced fumbles.

While LSU’s deep offensive line just took home the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best, Oklahoma is stout up front as well. Creed Humphrey is an exceptional center with 25 starts as a redshirt sophomore. He is regarded as the best at his position in the country by NFL scouts.

An x-factor for OU could be their redshirt freshman kicker Gabe Brkic, who didn’t take over until the fourth game this season but became automatic. He was 48 of 48 on extra points and 17 of 17 for field goals with a long distance of 50 yards. LSU freshman Cade York, who has had a fine season as well, does bring the leg to make 50+ yard kicks when called upon.

Ed Orgeron has surged to national coach of the year acclaim this year, his fourth in charge at LSU, while Lincoln Riley continues to impress with 36 victories in three seasons at the helm in Norman.

These teams are talented and well-coached. Oddsmakers and the public have LSU as a two-touchdown favorite. The Tigers may be a more complete team but the exciting Sooners are regulars in the College Football Playoffs. Let’s play ball!

LOCAL TIES…

Oklahoma reserve safety Chanse Sylvie was a 4 star prospect out of Calvary Baptist with offers from Michigan, TCU and Oklahoma State.

Starting right tackle Adrian Ealy was the No, 4 rated player in Louisiana in 2017 out of East Ascension . He fielded offers from LSU, Arizona and Michigan.

Mykel Jones, a junior receiver out of Patterson, was a 4 star recruit and 20th rated at his position in the nation back in 2016. He picked the Sooners over Alabama, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

Defensive tackle Troy James, a redshirt sophomore, was a 3 star talent from Madison Prep in the 2017 class. He also played running back in high school and managed 468 yards with seven touchdowns as a senior.

AVOIDING THE ‘K’…

The Tigers beat the Sooners in the 2003 BCS title game in New Orleans when only Oklahoma loss that season was a defeat at the hands of Kansas State in the Big XII title game. The lone blemish this season for OU was a 48-41 loss to K-State.

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Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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