Troy can seal mastery over the Sun Belt West with a victory over hapless Arkansas State
Tossing out Arkansas State’s two wins acquired in the early 1950s, the Red Wolves lead the series with Troy 8-7. Chances are good that Troy evens up the modern series this Saturday when future Sun Belt Coach of the Year Jon Sumrall brings his Trojans to Centennial Bank Stadium.
The two programs have some hurt between them. In 2016, with Troy having just received an AP Top 25 ranking, the Red Wolves pulled off the glorious upset at Veterans Stadium. The very next year, the Trojans defeated the Red Wolves in Jonesboro, forcing Arkansas State to split the Sun Belt Championship with Appalachian State.
The stakes are high on Saturday for the Trojans, who need the victory to declare Undisputed Lordship over the Sun Belt West. Meanwhile, Arkansas State is simply seeking something to build upon after another puzzling road loss, this time to lowly Texas State. A victory wouldn’t just be satisfying; it would be legitimately miraculous.
The End Is the Only Mercy Afforded to Arkansas State
This season, billed as part of the program’s rebuild, as been difficult to stomach, with 4th quarter road collapses to Memphis, Old Dominion, Southern Miss and Texas State. Had the Red Wolves the maturity and skillsets to close out games, Arkansas State might be enjoying a bowl season. Instead, the Red Wolves are 3-8 and fans are grumbling for heads.
“I get it when people are upset,” said Coach Butch Jones during Tuesday’s press conference. “I have not at one time regretted taking this job. It energizes me every day. We know what it takes to get there.”
Jones describes himself as a “program builder,” and there’s no questioning the quality of his recruiting (on paper, it’s been fantastic). One can also see the four narrow road losses as defeats that would have likely been horrendous blowouts last season. Lastly, while the offense has regressed, the defense has become a serviceable unit again.
All that said, the Red Wolves have now endured their third consecutive losing season. A victory over Troy would certainly restore some faith among the base.
Saturday is Senior Day in Jonesboro
You have one last shot to salute these seniors – unsung heroes of the rebuild. The following 15 are set to be honored before the 2:30 kickoff:
- TW Ayers
- Kivon Bennett
- James Blackman
- Joe Britton
- Jordan Carmouche
- Champ Flemings
- Robert Holmes
- Te’Vailance Hunt
- Johnnie Lang
- Robert McWilliams
- John Mincey
- Marcel Murray
- Ernesto Ramirez
- Jordan Rhodes
- Reed Tyler
Don’t Expect a Volcanic Eruption of Trojan Scoring
In the Sun Belt, only Old Dominion and Texas State scores fewer points than Troy (22.5), who also surrenders the conference’s second fewest points (16.6 per game). The man who’s emerged from the scrum: running back Kimani Vidal who piled up 242 rush yards on ULM’s mostly miserable defense.
Starting quarterback Gunnar Watson has only thrown 9 touchdown passes this season, and he has thrown just as many picks. Against the Warhawks, Watson completed ten passes for only 78 yards. As for Vidal, 34% of his yards on the season came at the expense of ULM.
However, diminutive sophomore wide receiver Tez Johnson is a legitimate danger (734 yards, 4 TDs). Johnson, who held an offer from Arkansas State as a three-star prospect, is only 5’9″ and 150 pounds, but he gives the Trojan receiving core a speedy target.
How Can Arkansas State Possible Win This Game?
Much like Coastal Carolina on the other side of the division, Troy is a physically tough defensive team that rarely dominates the score board. They defeated Army 10-9. They beat South Alabama 10-6. They pushed by Marshall 16-7. They’re the kind of team that has you believing that you’re just one big play from overcoming.
Big plays are what the Red Wolves need. Early in the season, “James Blackman to Champ Flemings” was that big play connection. However, Flemings has become mostly invisible since getting dinged against Memphis, leaving the offense looking for another big playmaker to step up. Jeff Foreman has shown moments of brilliance, as has running back Marcel Murray. But there is no consistency emerging from the huddle. Somebody needs to summon the internal power to take over the game.
Personally, I’d love to see the departing seniors deliver one last dent into the universe. Reed Tyler. Champ Flemings. Te’Vailance Hunt. Marcel Murray. Johnnie Lang. James Blackman. One last ride.
The Analysis That Is Final
It’s been a hard year. A win over the Trojans wouldn’t necessarily cure all ills, but it would be a positive image to bring into the offseason. With that said, the Trojans are playing for the Sun Belt Championship, and while Troy hasn’t exactly dominated the scoreboard, it has dominated the line of scrimmage – an area for which Butch Jones has challenged his Red Wolves to overcome all season long.
My advice for Red Wolves fans is to pay homage to the departing seniors, see the promise in the young roster, and look forward to next season.