Oklahoma football: Playoff loss to LSU no ordinary beatdown

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 28: Linebacker Kenneth Murray #9 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts to a defensive play during the game against the LSU Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 28: Linebacker Kenneth Murray #9 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts to a defensive play during the game against the LSU Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Lincoln Riley has lost only six games in three seasons as the Oklahoma football coach, but three of those have come in the College Football Playoff.

LSU made mincemeat of a Sooner defense that had only allowed 330 yards a game coming into its Playoff showdown with the No. 1-seeded Tigers on Saturday. The result was a 63-28 shellacking and the worst loss by an Oklahoma team in over two decades.

And the demolition of the Sooner defense was just half the story. The Oklahoma offense, headed by quarterback Jalen Hurts and ranked No. 2 this season behind LSU in terms of yards per game, stammered and sputtered to a season-low 322 yards of total offense against a swarming and stifling Tiger defense. This from an offense that had totaled just one yard less than LSU for the season.

Award-winning sports columnist Berry Tramel of The (Oklahoma City) Oklahoman summed up the game this way:

“LSU routed OU 63-28, burning the Sooners the way Tecumseh burned this Old South city (Atlanta).”

LSU’s Heisman winning quarterback Joe Burrow was throwing bullseyes and the Oklahoma defense was his private shooting gallery as the country’s No. 1 offense torched the Sooners for 63 points and a 35-point victory in the first of two College Football Playoff semifinals on Saturday.

By halftime, the runaway Heisman winner had passed for 403 yards and thrown more touchdown passes (7) than passes that missed their target and hit the ground.

It was an Oklahoma performance in national championship and Playoff appearances that has become far too familiar for Sooner fans. The Sooners have been to four of the last five College Football Playoffs. Only Alabama and Clemson have been there more often — but with much different results.

Oklahoma sadly has become the collegiate version of the NFL Buffalo Bills, who went to four consecutive Super Bowls (1991-94), only to come up on the short end of the scoreboard in all four. But at least the Bills were more competitive in those four championship appearances than the Sooners have been in theirs.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

The Sooners have yet to win a game in four trips to the Playoff, and in three of those games they trailed by at least 20 points.

I thought Oklahoma would never play worse in a game with the national championship on the line than in the 2005 Orange Bowl with USC. Behind Heisman winner Matt Leinart and future Heisman winner Reggie Bush, the No. 1 Trojans rolled to a 55-19 win over the Sooners.

I obviously was wrong.

Three Sooner players were suspended for the game, including the team’s best pass rusher in defensive end Ronnie Perkins. Then, a week of so prior to the game, Oklahoma lost sophomore starting safety Delarrin Turner-Yell to a broken collarbone.

It turned out that the loss of Perkins wasn’t as damaging to the Sooners’ cause as was Turner-Yell’s. Redshirt sophomore Justin Broiles replaced Turner-Yell in the LSU game and was given the primary responsibility to cover the Tigers’ second best receiver, Justin Jefferson. All Jefferson did was catch four touchdown passes, all in the opening half, along with 10 other catches for a total of 227 receiving yards.

In the second quarter, OU defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles was called for targeting and ejected from the game, further depleting an already undermanned Sooner secondary. True freshman Woodi Washington replaced Radley-Hiles, and LSU’s Burrow, being the great quarterback that he has been this entire season, took full advantage of the Sooners’ inexperience in the back end of the defense.

From the get-go, this was a disaster waiting to happen. LSU just has too many highly talented receivers, and Oklahoma lacked both the talent and the experience in the secondary to match up effectively. The Sooner pass defense had not given up a 300-yard passing game all season coming into the Peach Bowl game against LSU.

Oklahoma had shown in a couple of game this season that it had the ability to come back from large deficits — down 25 points in the fourth quarter against Kansas State and by 25 points at Baylor before mounting an incredible second-half comeback to win that game — but the LSU defense is too good and the OU offense, with Hurts at the controls, actually is not built with the quick-strike ability it’s had in the recent past.

This year’s Sooner offense, while able to continue putting up big numbers, is a more grind-it-out style, which requires sustaining drives and keeping the chains moving. As Oklahoma discovered, that’s something that’s extremely difficult to do with any level of consistency against a team as good as LSU is at stopping the run.

LSU held Oklahoma to fewer than100 yards on the ground (97), the first time the Sooners have not rushed for at least 100 yards since the opening game of the 2016 season.

While Alex Grinch’s OU defense will get most of the blame for the Sooners’ inept showing this time around, the offense is not without it’s share of the criticism. The LSU defense had Hurts bottled up for most of the game, preventing the quarterback runs he has been so successful with all season (his 1,298 rushing yards set a new single-season record for an Oklahoma quarterback).

The Sooners’ offensive struggles were further compounded by the fact that a number of Hurts’ 31 passes were off target.

Asked about the Oklahoma performance after the game, Riley said:

"“We’re continuing to make strides. There’s no doubt about it. I mean, just putting yourself here four times in five years is…that’s so hard to do, man. This program has championship DNA…and we’ll be back.”"

That may be so, but for right now, the championship DNA that the Sooner head coach talks about seems to be confined to Big 12 championships.

There’s no question that Oklahoma has gotten better on defense this season, despite the poor showing in the Playoff loss to LSU. But defensive coordinator Grinch would be the first to admit it still has a long way to go to be of the caliber that Clemson and the top teams in the SEC are putting on the field.

Until it is, Oklahoma — and, frankly, all of the Big 12 — will continue to be an afterthought insofar as national championship legitimacy is concerned.