College Football Playoff preview: LSU vs. Oklahoma and Ohio State vs. Clemson
PEACH BOWL: No. 1 Louisiana State (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)
Saturday, ESPN, 1 p.m. PST, Atlanta.
When LSU has the ball: Oklahoma’s defense made strides this season under first-year coordinator Alex Grinch, but that improvement may not be clear very often against LSU and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. The Tigers’ offense had an even greater transformation than the Sooners’ defense, a change in mentality as much as scheme. Burrow and receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson never stop attacking.
When Oklahoma has the ball: Quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Sooners beat you with balance. They have to establish the ground game with Hurts and running back Kennedy Brooks to open up the field for wide receivers CeeDee Lamb and Charleston Rambo. Look for LSU to try to force Hurts to beat the Tigers through the air. It will be up to Hurts to show his former SEC rival at Alabama that he’s evolved as a passer.
Key to victory: As a heavy favorite, LSU can’t play this one tight. Ed Orgeron must coach an aggressive game from start to finish because that’s what got the Tigers this far.
FIESTA BOWL: No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (13-0)
Saturday, ESPN, 5 p.m. PST, Glendale, Ariz.
When Ohio State has the ball: The last time these teams played in a College Football Playoff semifinal, it was at the Fiesta Bowl in 2016, and the Buckeyes couldn’t muster a point in a 31-0 loss. That’s what led Urban Meyer to bring in Ryan Day to coach the offense. With Day now head coach and Justin Fields at quarterback, the Buckeyes are operating at maximum efficiency. Clemson’s defense reloads every offseason, and this year has been no different. That said, the Tigers have not faced an offense with anywhere near the explosiveness as Ohio State’s this season.
When Clemson has the ball: The same skill position players who dominated Notre Dame and Alabama in last year’s CFP are back in quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and wide receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. Clemson stumbled out of the gate and nearly cost itself in a 21-20 win at North Carolina, but the Tigers have a way of finding their legs for the stretch run. Ohio State’s defense has been dominant, but it will have no frame of reference for Clemson’s speed.
Key to victory: Who will avoid the big mistake, Fields or Lawrence?
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