TROY, Ala. – Playing in front of a televised audience is nothing new for the Troy football team as the Trojans have appeared on television 53 times out of a possible 68 games since the 2007 season. Thursday night Troy welcomes the ESPN cameras back to campus as the Trojans play host to Western Kentucky on ESPNU in a pivotal Sun Belt Conference game in Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Troy owns a 12-4 all-time record, which includes an undefeated mark at home, when playing on one of ESPN’s primary stations (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU). Kickoff between the Trojans (3-2, 2-1 Sun Belt) and Hilltoppers (4-1, 1-0) is scheduled for 6:32 p.m.
The Trojans are returning home following a pair of conference victories on the road, while the Hilltoppers have won three straight games including an overtime victory at Kentucky.
It has been the defenses of both teams that have helped them reach their current win streaks. Thursday’s game features the top two scoring defenses in the Sun Belt Conference as WKU leads the league allowing 21.2 points per game and Troy is close behind allowing just 22.6 points per contest.
The Trojans held North Texas and South Alabama to a combined 17 points in their two consecutive road victories; it was the fewest combined points allowed by a Troy defense in back-to-back games since 2008. The Trojan defense has allowed just 24 points over the past 10 quarters of play – no other school in the Sun Belt can match that number.
Troy’s success on defense can be traced to a trio of key points – third-down conversions, completion percentage and touchdowns in the red zone.
Opponents have converted just 21 percent of their third down attempts in the past three games and just 30 percent for the season; the Trojans rank 12th nationally in opponent third-down conversion percentage for the season. The Trojans have held opposing quarterbacks to a 41.3 completion percentage over the past three games and have allowed a touchdown in the red zone just once in six trips over the past three games.
Offensively the Trojans have the Sun Belt’s top passer in Corey Robinson and the league’s second-leading rusher in Shawn Southward. The duo has thrived behind the play of an offensive line that ranks 15th in the NCAA with only four sacks allowed on the season.
Robinson has completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 1,489 yards and six touchdowns this season and the junior needs just 12 completions against the Hilltoppers to set the Sun Belt career record for passing completions with 782.
Southward has rushed for 516 yards and five touchdowns on 95 carries (5.4 YPC). The senior is only 40 yards shy of his total from last season, while the Trojans as a team are only 198 yards shy of eclipsing their rushing total from 2011.
Who is going to come down with Robinson’s passes is the biggest mystery surrounding the Troy offense as 13 different players have a reception this season and five players have caught Troy’s seven touchdowns.
Seniors Chip Reeves and Eric Thomas lead the way for the Trojans with 29 and 27 catches, respectively. Reeves was added to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List last week as he enters the week ranked 30th in the NCAA with 85.6 receiving yards per game.
The Hilltoppers are expected to start Kawaun Jakes at quarterback after the senior missed the second half of their game two weeks ago at Arkansas State after suffering a knee injury. WKU running back Antonio Andrews leads the Sun Belt in rushing with 108.4 yards per game on the ground; just 5.2 yards more than Southward.
Quanterus Smith anchors a solid Hilltopper defense that ranks 14th nationally in total defense and sacks. Smith leads the country averaging 1.62 sacks per game and is tied for fourth averaging 2.38 tackles for loss per game. In the secondary, Jonathan Dowling returns from a one-game suspension and is tied for the NCAA lead with four interceptions in four games.
Troy leads the all-time series 8-1-1 and the Trojans are a perfect 4-0-1 at home against the Hilltoppers.