Life is pretty good for Troy fans these days. Troy is in the midst of an 8-1 season and checked in at No. 25 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25. The Trojans’ last loss occurred on Sept. 10, a 30-24 defeat at the hands of Clemson. Since then, Neal Brown’s team has rattled off seven straight wins, including last week’s 28-24 victory over Appalachian State.
While not quite as long, Arkansas State is in the midst of its own winning streak. The Red Wolves opened the season with four straight losses, but have since caught fire and have now won five in a row. Arkansas State beat New Mexico State 41-22 last week and needs just one win in its last three games to earn the right to go to a sixth consecutive bowl.
Arkansas State leads the head-to-head series against Troy 9-6 and has won the last three meetings. Both teams enter Thursday night’s game at 5-0 in the Sun Belt, so conference title hopes will be on the line.
Arkansas State at Troy
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 17 at 8:30 p.m.
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Arkansas State +9
Three Things to Watch
1. The Trojan Wall
In five games this season, Troy’s rushing defense has held opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards. In fact, this season teams have totaled 949 yards on the ground against the Trojans or just 101.4 per game.
Troy ranks eighth in the FBS against the run and is giving up just 3.2 yards per carry (11th). Arkansas State enters this game averaging 138 rushing yards per game. While that number might not be too overwhelming, Red Wolves running back Warren Wand has played a large role during his team’s five-game winning streak. On the season, Wand has 607 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He will need to maintain his productivity against a stout Trojan defense to put Arkansas State in a position to win on the road.
2. Troy RB Jordan Chunn
Like his Arkansas State counterpart Warren Wand, Chunn has been critical to the Trojans’ success this season. Troy is first in the Sun Belt and 36th nationally with its 4.7 yards per carry average. Chunn leads the conference with 1,028 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, including one in seven straight games.
Overall, the Trojans are third in the Sun Belt in rushing at 197.4 yards per game while Arkansas State ranks sixth in defending the run (181.1 ypg). Whichever team can run the ball more effectively will likely come out as the victor in this one.
3. Arkansas State defensive end Chris Odom
To say Odom has lived in opposing team’s backfields as of late would be an understatement. Over the Trojans’ last four games, Odom has five sacks to go along with seven tackles for a loss. In his career, he’s blocked four kicks, including one against Georgia State two weeks ago.
The senior is in the top 10 in the Sun Belt in both sacks and tackles for a loss and he will need to keep making impact plays behind the line of scrimmage if the Red Wolves want to slow down the conference’s top offense.
Thursday’s matchup promises to be one of the Sun Belt’s more intriguing as both teams enter enjoying extended winning streaks. Arkansas State’s recent run has been impressive, and thanks to it, the Red Wolves are playing for more than to preserve their undefeated Sun Belt Conference record, as bowl eligibility could also be clinched. Troy’s only hiccup to date has been against then-undefeated Clemson. The Trojans will get all they can handle from Arkansas State Thursday but should emerge victorious when the clock runs out.
Prediction: Troy 31, Arkansas State 20
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.