The Brown Era Begins at Troy
(This is the 14th and final article on the Sun Belt Conference and the 2015 opponents of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. Today: Troy. The Cajuns and Trojans, close the regular season Saturday, Dec. 5 at Cajun Field.)
It certainly will be different without Larry Blakeney. The last time he wasn’t on the Troy sidelines, the Sun Belt didn’t even sponsor football. Troy wasn’t even in the FBS. But Blakeney has retired and the new man in charge is former Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown. Brown is the second youngest head coach in the FBS at 35 years of age. The last four years have been pretty tough at Troy after the Trojans dominated the league, going 32-5 at one stretch. The Trojans have had one break even season and three losing seasons in the last four and Brown’s job is to turn that back around and make Troy a power in the league again.
OFFENSE: Brandon Silvers won the job as a freshman last year, but then was suffered a concussion and Troy suffered without him. He was spectacular in his final three games after coming back, completing more than 80% of his passes with six touchdowns and no picks. For the season he was over 70% in completions. He returns along with Dontreal Pruitt and Dallas Tidwell, all of whom saw action a year ago. Their top two running backs, Brandon Burks and Jordan Chunn, combined for 1,089 and nine touchdowns. The Trojans lost Chandler Worthy (who scored a touchdown against the Saints in the pre-season) but return four of their top six pass catchers. There’s some rebuilding to do on the O-line with just two starters back That group allowed 23 sacks last year and they’ll need to protect the QB in what is expected to be a pass oriented offense under Brown.
DEFENSE: Troy allowed a whopping 5.7 yards per carry and nearly 250 yards per game. That, and the injury at quarterback contributed to the 3-9 record as much as anything. They’ll be better up front with three starters back, including DE Tyler Roberts who is a solid pass rusher. Montrez Kitchens is an all Sun Belt defensive back and will lead a back four that should be pretty good. But the real area of concern is at linebacker Troy is counting on a pair of JUCO transfers to lead at this position and how they perform could tell a big story about Troy’s defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS—Worthy was all-conference at kick returner, getting two for touchdowns and they will obviously miss him a bunch. Teddy Ruben, their top punt returner, is back and will probably handle KOR as well. Jed Soloman was their kickoff man last year and returns. Ryan Kay handled most of the placements last season and was the punter as well. He and Solomon are battling for both positions. Kay’s net was right at 36 yards last season.
SCHEDULE: It’s tough. Troy opens against NC State at home and has to make trips to Wisconsin (ouch) and Mississippi State. They don’t play Arkansas State or Texas State, but have to make trips to Las Cruces, Boone and Lafayette. They do get Georgia Southern and South Alabama at home.
OUTLOOK: Brown has some talent offensively at the skill positions and, for an offensive guy, that’s a start. They have quite a few questions to answer on the line offensively and that will be the key to their ability to score points. Defensively, they’ve got a task ahead of them. They had only 17 sacks a year ago, but Roberts’ return gives them a start. They’ll be pretty good in the secondary, but that linebacker spot, for years a Troy mainstay, will be pretty shaky unless a couple of JUCO’s step forward. There’s some excitement in Troy with the new, youthful coach. But he’s got quite a task before him to return Troy to the place their fans crave.
(Information from Phil Steele’s College Football Preview contributed to this report.)