Atlanta — Joe Burrow needed a year under his belt, along with a coaching change and a new wide-open offense, to really find his way at LSU.
Jalen Hurts didn’t have even that long to adjust, which makes his lone season at Oklahoma even more remarkable.
Now, two transfer quarterbacks who left an inedible mark on their second programs will meet tonight in the Peach Bowl semifinal playoff game.
The overall matchup looks a bit one-sided – top-ranked LSU (13-0) is a two-touchdown favorite over the No. 4 Sooners (12-1) – but the quarterback duel is downright tantalizing.
Burrow, the runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy, has completed nearly 78% of his passes for 4,715 yards, with a staggering 48 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
“How can you not respect what Joe’s done?” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “He’s had a fabulous year. He’s going to be the best quarterback we’ve faced.”
Ditto for LSU.
Hurts, the Heisman runner-up, has dazzled with both his right arm and his legs.
He’s completed just under 72% of his throws for 3,634 yards, 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions this year – and leads his team in rushing with 1,255 yards and 18 TDs.
“He’s the key to the game,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.
Both star quarterbacks took circuitous routes to get where they are.
Burrow, who left Ohio State after failing to earn a starting job, played solidly for LSU in 2018. He became a full-fledged star when the Tigers committed to the spread offense and hired Joe Brady away from the New Orleans Saints to serve as passing game coordinator.
While Burrow, an Ohio native, has fit comfortably into the Louisiana lifestyle – memorably, he donned a jersey that spelled his name “Burreaux” for senior night – Hurts faced a more difficult adjustment after transferring to Oklahoma from Alabama.
Guarded and not very vocal, Hurts won over his teammates and coaching staff with his stunning play on the field.
“Respect is earned, not given,” Hurts said.
“When you’re with a group of men in a new setting, you don’t know any of them, you’re the quarterback, you’re trying to earn their respect, you go in there and lead by example and just do your job.
“If they wish to follow you, they do. They followed.”
Hurts led Alabama to the national championship game his first two seasons, only to lose the starting job to Tua Tagovailoa. After watching from the bench as a junior, he graduated early and transferred to Oklahoma to play one more year.
“It’s been an ongoing process,” Hurts said. “Taking a leap of faith is probably the best way I can put it.”
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
LSU vs. Oklahoma
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Line: LSU by 10