TROY, Ala. – The opposite ends of the Sun Belt Conference spectrum meet Saturday afternoon in Ladd-Peebles Stadium when Troy and South Alabama square off at 2:30 p.m. in a game televised by the Sun Belt Network (CSS/CST).
Troy comes into its first-ever matchup with in-state foe South Alabama with over 100 years of football history, five Sun Belt championships in the past six years and a hall of fame head coach that ranks ninth in victories among active coaches.
On the other end of the football landscape is South Alabama. The Jaguars fielded their first football team in 2009 and this season marks their first as a football-playing member of the Sun Belt. South Alabama (1-3, 0-0 Sun Belt) has had success under head coach Joey Jones during the program’s infancy as the Jags have posted a 24-7 record to date.
Troy enters Saturday’s game fresh off a 14-7 victory at North Texas that evened the Trojans overall and Sun Belt record (2-2, 1-1) and pushed their road ledger to 2-0 on the year. South Alabama returns to the comfort of home after dropping a pair of games at North Carolina State (31-7) and Mississippi State (30-10).
The Jaguars, who will be playing their first-ever Sun Belt game, have fared well at home over their three-plus years of existence with a 20-2 record; however, the visit by Troy will be the first by a FBS team to Ladd-Peebles Stadium (USA opened the season at home against FBS provisional Texas-San Antonio).
The defensive performance by the Trojans last week was impressive to say the least. Troy held North Texas to just 2-of-14 on third downs in the game with both conversions coming on the same drive in the first quarter. The Trojans held the Mean Green scoreless over the game’s final 50 minutes and did all of that without two starters in the lineup – safety Chris Pickett and linebacker Kanorris Davis.
“Well I've been telling y'all, it looked like we're a little better, a little deeper and growing together on defense,” Troy head coach Larry Blakeney said at his weekly press luncheon on Monday. “Something is being laid out there to make these guys appreciate a win. I think we're getting better and the defense is starting to figure in. We need to make sure we don't take a week off; we need to keep getting better, keep preparing. I think our coaches have done a great job with the plans. I am proud of the defensive output, but we still weren't anywhere close to perfect, but we had a lot of people playing hard. ”
Offensively it was the explosive combination of Corey Robinson and Chip Reeves that gave Troy the lead for good in the third quarter. The pair, who had already hooked up for a 55-yard touchdown earlier in the year, connected on a 76-yard pass-and-catch to give Troy the 14-7 lead.
“These guys have worked hard; they've put a lot into this team,” Blakeney said of his team. “It shows when they are able to win that they are excited about what they've accomplished. They worked hard in the offseason and they've been the beneficiary of a lot of effort by support staff, coaching staff and administration. They've been the beneficiary of a lot of older players wanting this season to be different from last season. I'm proud of where this team is. It's all about winning and momentum.”
It will be strength against strength on Saturday as Troy brings the nation’s 10th-ranked passing attack (335.5) and 20th-ranked offensive unit (498.8) into the game against a South Alabama defense that has allowed an average of 314.0 total yards and 192.0 passing yards per game this season; the Jaguars are not included in the NCAA statistical rankings due to their provisional status.
Robinson is 12th nationally averaging 316.5 yards per game through the air, while running back Shawn Southward is tied for 19th in the NCAA averaging 107.5 yards per game on the ground; both lead the Sun Belt. Among active quarterbacks in the country, Robinson ranks second in yards per game, fourth in attempts and completions, fifth in passing yards and sixth in touchdowns. The junior signal caller needs 27 completions (averaging 29.5 per game this season) to become the Sun Belt’s all-time leader in the category.
Safety Brynden Trawick, who led the Sun Belt in tackles last season, was named the league’s defensive player of the week on Monday after registering 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass break up in Troy’s victory at North Texas. Trawick leads the Trojans on the year averaging 8.8 tackles per game, while Brannon Bryan checks in second averaging 7.5 stops per contest.
The Troy sideline on Saturday will also be home to the league’s reigning special teams player of the week in Will Scott. The Trojans punter and place kicker took home the honor after he netted 41.7 yards on nine punts last week and placed four of them inside the 20-yard line. Scott also executed a perfect on-side kick and did not allow North Texas to return any of his 12 punts or kickoffs.
South Alabama has employed a two-quarterback system through its first four games with C.J. Bennett getting the majority of the work. Bennett has completed 50-of-85 attempts for 521 yards and three touchdowns, while Ross Metheny, who started at Mississippi State last week, has completed 28-of-49 attempts for 317 yards and score; the pair has thrown a combined five interceptions.
Demetre Baker leads the Jaguar ground game with 232 yards and a score this season. No Jaguar wide receiver has distinguished himself from the pack as four players have between 10 and 13 catches on the season; Jereme Jones has a pair of touchdown grabs among his 10 catches.