Talented Quarterbacks Take Center Stage for Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
There will be all-star caliber players spread throughout the lineup when No. 1 LSU plays No. 4 Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. But nowhere will the focus be more intense than at quarterback, a rare instance where the Heisman Trophy winner and the runner-up will both be on the same field.
No. 1 LSU features Heisman winner Joe Burrow, while No. 4 Oklahoma is led by Jalen Hurts, who helped Alabama win the national championship in 2018.
Both players are transfers. Burrow moved over from Ohio State, helped transform the Tigers to the spread offense and lead LSU to the SEC championship and an undefeated season. Hurts arrived as a graduate transfer from Alabama and helped the Sooners win the Big 12 title and return to the playoffs for the third straight season.
Both have put up some video-game type numbers. Burrow has thrown for 4,715 yards and 48 touchdowns – the only player in SEC history to reach those milestones. Hurts leads the nation in yards per pass attempt (11.8), yards per completion (16.4) and touchdowns accounted for (51). His passing efficiency of 200.3 is higher than the existing record of 199.4.
Both players can use their feet as well as their arms. Hurts has rushed for 1,255 yards – second-best in the Big 12 — and 18 touchdowns. Burrow has run for only 289 yards and three touchdowns, but is unmatched in his ability to escape rushers and extend a play so his receivers can get open.
Ja’Marr Chase, who won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver, shakes his head when asked about Burrow’s ability.
“We were playing Texas and it was a corner route,” Chase said. “I didn’t even think he was going to throw it, but he threw a perfect ball and I caught it. The only thing I said was, ‘Let’s do it again.’”
Burrow is trying to catch his breath after having a very busy few weeks. But Burrow won’t complain. He’s been getting ready for this moment since he was a kid.
“I want to win a national title,” he said. “That’s always been my drive since I was a sophomore in high school. When I envisioned myself growing up, being a football player, it wasn’t in the NFL, it was playing on January 1 in a dome somewhere for the national title.”
Hurts has his national championship, but is trying to make a clean break from his career at Alabama, where he helped the Tide win it all in 2018. It’s just harder for him this week in Atlanta, where he won two SEC championships and a national title. In fact, Hurts has gone out of his way to emphasize that he’s a Sooner and no longer a member of the Crimson Tide.
“When I first came to Oklahoma, I said, ‘no pass, no touchdown, no win’ while I was at the University of Alabama,” he said. “Help us win games here.”
The clean-slate approach appears to have worked. Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey, a second-team All-American, said Hurts has fit in from the day he arrived in Norman. “I didn’t know him before he got here, but I expected him to be the type of guy who’s always focused on how we improve things. He’s been awesome for us.”
Receiver CeeDee Lamb, a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, said, “He just wants to win and he’s going to make sure his team is prepared to win.”
There is a high respect factor coming from the opposition, too.
Oklahoma defensive lineman Neville Gallimore, speaking about Burrow, said, “He’s a play maker, obviously. He’s done a lot of really impressive things. The primary thing is just trying to focus on what we could do and how we can have an impact and just focus on playing our best ball. He’s a great player, obviously, the film shows that.”
LSU linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, speaking about Hurts, said, “He can make things happen with his arms or his legs. You have videos of him squatting, what, 600 pounds and that’s so unusual for a quarterback. We’ll have to gang tackle him, because you can’t leave anybody one-on-one to try and tackle him, so it’s going to be a unique task, but we’ll be up for it.”
The odds are pretty good that one of the quarterbacks is going to be the Most Valuable Offensive Player for the game. It’s happened the last two years – Florida’s Feleipe Franks won the award last year – and for six of the last seven years. LSU quarterbacks have won the award five times, starting with Mike Hillman in the inaugural game in 1968.