Oklahoma, the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff, is a 13-point underdog to LSU in Saturday’s Peach Bowl. The Sooners are deserving of a playoff berth and are one of a handful of teams that can match LSU offensively, but they will need quarterback Jalen Hurts to regain some of the magic he had early in the season to pull off the upset.

Hurts was the focal point of Oklahoma’s offense, which scored 43.2 points per game and averaged the most yards per play (8.2) among FBS teams. Almost half of Oklahoma’s drives ended in a touchdown (47 percent, fifth-highest), and the Sooners produced at least 10 yards per play on 30 percent of their drives (third highest).

Hurts, the runner-up in voting for the Heisman Trophy, set career highs in passing yards (3,634), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (200.3). In fact, he is one of three college quarterbacks to end the season with a passer rating of 200 or higher since 1956, the first year data is available. He also led the country in yards per pass attempt (11.8), yards per completion (16.4) and, by rushing for 1,255 yards with 18 more touchdowns, Hurts tied with Heisman winner Joe Burrow for the most total points responsible for per game (23.7).

But unlike Burrow, Hurts stalled a bit toward the end of the regular season. For example, Hurts’ passer rating in September and October was a robust 224.3, only to fall to 166.8 in November and December. His underlying metrics, such as completion rate, yards per attempt, touchdown rate and interception rate, saw a similar decline.

Hurts was able to cause disruption with his legs, too, but that production also saw a decline over the last two months. In September and October, Hurts managed 7.8 yards per carry and a touchdown every eight attempts. In November and December, he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and a touchdown every 23 attempts. He also had a career high eight fumbles this year, double his total from the past two seasons.

“He has to take care of the football,” analyst Kirk Herbstreit said of Hurts on ESPN. “LSU is an offense that has not been slowed down by anybody. You have to think, with three weeks to get ready, (LSU offensive coordinator) Joe Brady and (quarterback) Joe Burrow will come up with a plan. It’s up to Jalen Hurts to match LSU’s offense. He’s done a great job of running the football. He’s capable of making throws. They have to win one-on-one matchups against a very-talented LSU secondary.”

The biggest battle for Oklahoma in the secondary will feature CeeDee Lamb, a Biletnikoff Award finalist as one of the season’s most outstanding college football receivers. Lamb led the Sooners with 58 catches for 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns but will have to find open space against LSU’s freshman cornerback Derek Stingley, who led the SEC with six of the Tigers’ 16 interceptions and was the highest-graded true freshman cornerback according to Pro Football Focus.

Cornerback Kristian Fulton and safeties Grant Delpit and Jacoby Stevens will also be lurking in the secondary. These four, along with LSU’s defensive line, held opponents to zero or negative yards 18 percent of the time, the eighth-highest “busted rate” of 2019.

“The thing in this playoff is you’re going to play great teams, and you’re going to have to play really well,” Oklahoma Coach Lincoln Riley said. “Everybody here is going to have to play well to beat the other teams, and that’s how it should be. It’s a good accomplishment, but it’s not, certainly not our end goal. Our focus will be trying to play our very best here on the 28th.”

The Sooners, of course, are no stranger to being the underdog in big games. Oklahoma was a 11-point underdog to Florida State in the 1999-2000 title game but won 13-2 to claim the national championship. It was a 17 1/2-point underdog in the 2013-14 Sugar Bowl against Alabama, yet won that game 45-31. If there is going to be a third upset, the team must continue to operate at a high level offensively, and that includes Hurts having one of the best games of his career.

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