No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma: Peach Bowl preview and picks against the spread

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No. 1 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)

Location: Atlanta | When: Dec. 28 (4 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: LSU -12.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

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LSU: The Tigers got here with a Heisman-winning quarterback and a high-flying offense like we’ve never seen in Baton Rouge. 

That’s a sufficient sentence to generalize the 2019 LSU season. But we’ll go a little deeper here. All offseason we heard about the offensive changes promised with the arrival of former New Orleans Saints assistant Joe Brady as the team’s passing game coordinator. But you wouldn’t be faulted in the slightest if you wanted to see those changes in action before you believed the talk.

Well, that talk wasn’t hyperbole. LSU averaged 48 points per game and scored over 40 points in each of its first six games of the season. The first time LSU failed to crack 40 came in a 36-13 win at Mississippi State on Oct. 19. 

The lowest points output of the season was a 23-20 win over Auburn the next week. And after a week off the Tigers beat Alabama 46-41 in Tuscaloosa to show it was both for real and the best team in the country. 

LSU didn’t step off the gas after that Alabama game either. Each of the next three wins over Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M featured at least 50 points. And the SEC championship game against Georgia was a 37-10 domination that cemented QB Joe Burrow’s status as the runaway Heisman winner

NCAA college football player, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the 2019 Heisman Trophy. (AP Photo/Jason Szenes)
NCAA college football player, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the 2019 Heisman Trophy. (AP Photo/Jason Szenes)

Oklahoma: Another year, another new quarterback, another playoff appearance. Things just keep rolling right along in Norman.

Oklahoma’s offense was never going to match the heights that it did in 2018 when Kyler Murray threw for over 4,000 yards, rushed for over 1,000 yards with Kennedy Brooks and wide receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb each had over 1,000 yards receiving as OU averaged nearly nine yards per play. But it was still really good in 2019.

Jalen Hurts has thrown for over 3,600 yards and rushed for over 1,200 while Brooks needs just 24 yards against LSU to crack 1,000 again. And Lamb has over 1,200 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns.

But an offense that averaged fewer than a turnover per game in 2018 is averaging nearly 1.5 a game in 2019. Those turnovers — coupled with a defense’s midseason inability to force them — are why Oklahoma lost at Kansas State and had to mount a big comeback to beat Baylor during the regular season.

The Sooners were derailed by their defense in 2018. The defense is a lot better this season. It gives up nine fewer points per game. But on Saturday it’ll be missing sack leader Ronnie Perkins because of a suspension and second-leading tackler Delarrin Turner-Yell because of injury. That’s two huge losses for a unit that still doesn’t have much margin for error. Especially against a fantastic offense. 

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts was a Heisman finalist in 2019. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts was a Heisman finalist in 2019. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

Because it’s the College Football Playoff, of course. And because this is a game that could be a first-one-to-50 type of matchup. These are two of the best and most entertaining and creative offenses in college football against defenses that have given up a lot of points at various points in 2019. Can Oklahoma stop LSU enough to keep its offense in the game?

PLAYERS TO WATCH

LSU RB Tyrion Davis-Prince: The freshman has just 60 carries for 270 yards in 2019 but could be in line for an elevated role on Saturday if Clyde Edwards-Helaire is limited or sidelined completely by the hamstring injury he suffered in practice. Edwards-Helaire has 197 carries for 1,290 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns and has also caught 50 passes from Burrow. He’s a vital part of LSU’s offense. But Davis-Prince has also shown he can be a part of the passing game with 10 receptions and may have to step in and play the role of Edwards-Helaire against the Sooners. 

Oklahoma running back Kennedy Brooks should break the 1,000-yard mark on Saturday. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma running back Kennedy Brooks should break the 1,000-yard mark on Saturday. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma RB Kennedy Brooks: Brooks has been one of the more effective runners in college football again in 2019. He’s rushed just 145 times for 976 yards and has scored five touchdowns as Hurts has taken over the role of goal-line rusher. 

Brooks didn’t get more than 20 carries in a game until Nov. 23 when he rushed 25 times against TCU and then 22 times against Oklahoma State. He’ll probably get his third 20+ carry game on Saturday. RB Trey Sermon has been sidelined with a season-ending knee injury and Rhamondre Stevenson — the man who scored the Big 12-clinching TD against Baylor and OU’s No. 2 RB at the end of the season — will miss the game because of a suspension. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

LSU S Grant Delpit: This game is absolutely loaded with NFL talent, and you know plenty about Joe Burrow to this point. So we’ll go with Delpit, the Jim Thorpe Award winner who frankly might not have deserved that honor. He’s a fantastic prospect, but Delpit didn’t have a terrific season, at least compared to how he played in 2018. Poor tackling and a lack of playmaking were concerns, although some of that can be attributed to an ankle injury suffered against Auburn (and one he has tweaked a few times since). The Tigers will want to make some game-changing plays on defense, and Delpit can help that effort with his range and instincts. This could be his final college game if LSU loses, although Delpit has yet to make a final call on declaring for the 2020 draft. He can answer some questions about his game and firm up a first-round landing spot with a good performance in Atlanta.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

LSU: The Tigers are in the College Football Playoff for the first time and would be playing for a national title for the first time since the 2011 BCS Championship Game against Alabama. A national title would be LSU’s first since 2007.

Oklahoma: The Sooners are looking to get over the playoff hump. Oklahoma has made the playoff four of the past five seasons but has lost in the semifinals in each of the prior three playoff appearances. Oklahoma’s last national title chance came in the BCS Championship Game after the 2008 season 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: LSU -12.5

Sam Cooper: LSU -12.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: LSU -13.5

Pete Thamel: LSU -13.5

Dan Wetzel: LSU -13.5

Sean Sullivan: LSU -13.5

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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