It's been eight years, but it feels like only yesterday that LSU was undefeated and headed to New Orleans to square off against Alabama to claim their third national championship in less than a decade. Of course, we know how that game turned out, as well as the subsequent misery involved with an eight-game losing streak to Alabama, the firing of former coach Les Miles, and the never-ending question of when the Tigers would rise back up as one of the premier programs in college football.
Fast forward to 2019, and all the hopes and dreams of LSU fans have come true-the Tigers are undefeated SEC champions and are led by the second Heisman Trophy winner in program history. Ain't life grand?
It's fitting that No. 1 LSU (13-0) faces off against No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) in the Peach Bowl, the semifinal of the College Football Playoff. The Sooners are the team that LSU defeated in 2003 to win the program's first national title since 1958, kickstarting the new "golden era" for the Bayou Bengals in the twenty-first century. Should the Tigers advance past Oklahoma, the comparisons to previous title victories go even further: LSU will play in New Orleans (the site of 2003 and 2007 titles) and possibly face Ohio State (whom they beat for a national title in NOLA in 2007) en route to resuming their place as one of the best college football programs in the land, but presumptions are for the faint of heart.
Despite LSU's spotless record, darling quarterback, and team-of-destiny persona, the Tigers still must take of business against Oklahoma in Atlanta.
The masses believe LSU will pistol-whip the Sooners back to Norman, but there's still a small sliver of doubt in every Tiger fan's mind that fears the worst. It's the kind of negativity that comes from several years of heartbreak in big games. Sure, the Joe Burrow-led Tigers have bested five Top-10 foes during this season, but everyone reserves a tiny spot in their hearts to brace for defeat-it's the kind of despondence that's been cultivated after nearly a decade of despair at the hands of an arch-rival.
"Hope is a dangerous thing," Red espoused to Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. "Hope can drive a man insane."
Well, the Tiger fans finally have hope-hope that coach Ed Orgeron can deliver another national title to the LSU faithful because hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
LSU Offense vs. Oklahoma Defense
Can LSU's offense be stopped? No.
Many defenses have tried, and they have all failed. The Tigers are clicking at a record pace behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow. The Ohio native has rewritten the LSU and SEC record books with his productivity, and even one of the top scoring defenses in the land could not contain him in the SEC championship. Of course, there are generational wide receivers like Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson and a running back whose skill set is reminiscent of a Swiss Army knife in Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but the offense's heartbeat is Burrow. And No. 9 is one bad, bad man.
Oklahoma's defense is improved, but the unit still gives up nearly 25 points a game. The Sooners play in a bush-league conference and had issues closing teams out in the month of November. LSU just eviscerated the second-ranked scoring defense in college football during the SEC Championship. Are the Sooners really going to be able to slow down the Burrow Express?
Oklahoma Offense vs. LSU Defense
Since transferring from Alabama, senior quarterback Jalen Hurts is having the best season of his celebrated collegiate career. The Texas native has passed for over 3,600 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,250 yards and 18 touchdowns this year. Hurts is undoubtedly the most dynamic signal caller LSU has faced all season. Hurts' best weapon is CeeDee Lamb, his do-it-all receiver who has been burning Big 12 defenses all season. Lamb has over 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
But here's the thing-while much maligned for most of the season, LSU's defense is peaking at the absolute perfect time. This unit is littered with future NFL draft picks, and, as they've gotten healthier, they've improved throughout the latter portion of the season. The Tiger defense has given up a total of 17 points the last two games. With studs like safety Grant Delpit and linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson heating up at the right time of the season, it could be a long day for any opponent foolish enough to line up against the Tigers.
One of the unintended shakeouts of this playoff match-up is LSU's opportunity to beat a second (former) Alabama quarterback this season. The Tigers defeated Tua Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide in early November, and now they get to face-off against his predecessor. That feels like two Bama wins. LSU's offensive firepower will be too much for Hurts and the Sooners. The Tigers continue their offensive dream season en route to a date with destiny in New Orleans.
LSU 42, Oklahoma 21
Photos by Mike Trummel