ATLANTA – There are no strangers and few secrets among the college football elite.
Such as LSU coach Ed Orgeron meeting Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley at last April’s NFL Draft and quizzing him on his offense’s counter play.
Or LSU quarterback Joe Burrow getting his first legitimate college scholarship offer from then-East Carolina offensive coordinator Riley.
Or Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch joining the Sooners’ staff this season coming from Ohio State where for a few months in the spring of 2018 he got to know a Buckeyes’ QB named Joe Burrow before he transferred to LSU that summer.
Or Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts transferring this season from Alabama where he was 2-0 as a starter against LSU in 2016 and 2017.
Or LSU safety Grant Delpit playing peewee football in Texas against Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb.
Then, there’s the fact that many players here on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium field for Saturday’s 3 p.m. CT College Football Playoff semifinal between No. 1 LSU (13-0) and No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl faced each other in numerous summer camps as high school prospects.
It’s why the level of respect between the Tigers and the Sooners is high, sans LSU linebacker Patrick Queen’s “I feel like with this game plan we got, we’re going to dominate them” comment during Thursday’s media day.
“This is going to be a war,” Orgeron said at Friday’s final pregame press conference.
“This game is going to be a heavy hitter,” Riley said. “You get to the College Football Playoff, both coaching staffs are good, both teams are good. There are good players on all three sides of the ball. It’s going to be a game of probably not a ton of huge advantages either spot.”
LSU has a Heisman Trophy winner (Burrow), a Bliletnikoff winner (Ja’Marr Chase as college football’s best receiver), a Jim Thorpe winner (Delpit as college football’s best defensive back, a Joe Moore winner (college football’s best offensive line), three first-team AP All-America picks (Burrow, Chase, defensive back Derek Stingley Jr.), a Broyles Award winner (Joe Brady as college football’s top assistant) and Orgeron as unanimous National Coach of the Year.
Oklahoma possesses the Heisman runner-up (Hurts), Biletnikoff finalist (Lamb), an AP first-team All-American (Lamb), an AP second-team AA (offensive lineman Creed Humphrey) and two AP third team AA (defensive lineman Neville Gallimore and Hurts).
LSU’s first CFP appearance and Oklahoma’s fourth revolves around Burrow and Hurts, who have enjoyed two of the best seasons in college history operating offenses that are averaging 47.8 points and 43.2 points respectively.
“They’re as elite as you’re going to have in the country,” Ohio State’s D-coordinator Grinch said of LSU offense. “They’ve got one of everything, and they’ve got multiple of some. Joe has everything, every tool that’s necessary to be an elite quarterback at our level. He beats you with his legs, he beats you with his arm.”
“It’s a triple option offense kind of wrapped up in a spread packaging,” LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said of the Sooners’ attack. “We’ve got quarterback runs and speed shot throws and we’ve got looky passes off of run actions. Hurts likes to put his foot in the ground quite a bit, tries to set you up and cut it back.”
Both defenses have NFL caliber talent, with LSU and Oklahoma allowing 21.4 and 24.5 points respectively, and 341.3 and 330.6 yards respectively.
The Tigers’ defense found their stride in the last three games in wins over Arkansas, Texas A&M and in the SEC championship game Georgia, allowing averages of 12.3 points and 253 yards total offense.
Sophomore redshirt outside linebacker K’Lavon Chasisson has keyed LSU’s sudden improvement with 14 tackles and 3½ tackles for loss in those victories.
“Personally, it’s been good getting in a groove, getting healthier, getting your knowledge on the game,” Chaisson said. “As a defense, it’s getting people healthy. A lot of people weren’t healthy.”
The Sooners are hoping the loss of defensive end Ronnie Perkins, one of three OU players suspended for failing a drug test, doesn’t greatly affect putting pressure on Burrow.
Perkins is considered the team’s best pass rusher with 38 tackles, 13½ for a loss including six sacks.
LSU’s personnel challenge will be on offense playing without or an extremely limited Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
The Tigers’ versatile running back, who has rushed for 1,290 yards, has caught 50 passes and scored 17 touchdowns, hasn’t practiced since last Tuesday when he hurt a hamstring.
“He worked out with the trainers and felt a little sore after he worked out,” Orgeron said Friday after talking to Edwards-Helaire on Thursday night. “That’s going to be a game-time decision.
“Knowing Clyde, he’s going to want to play. Do I think he plays? Yeah. How much he plays, I don’t know. I don’t know if he can cut yet, and he doesn’t know if he can cut yet.”
The Tigers will compensate for little or no Edwards-Helaire with true freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. and freshman redshirt Chris Curry.
“Chris has a lot of tenacity, I have the most power and John makes you miss in the open field,” said Davis-Price assessed of the trio’s running styles
“I wouldn’t be worried at all, I know we’re ready. We’re going to get the job done, no matter what it is.”