Although Troy (6-2, 3-1) sits in third place in the Sun Belt, it’s playing perhaps just as well at this point in the season as conference leaders Arkansas State and Appalachian State. The Trojans completed their state of Georgia sweep last week to give them wins over Georgia State and Georgia Southern. Troy already is bowl eligible and still has three more regular-season games.
Idaho (3-5, 2-2) enters Thursday’s game on the heels of a 31-23 win against Louisiana Monroe, which gave the Vandals their third win of the season. With a .500 conference record, Idaho currently sits seventh in the Sun Belt standings, likely signaling a sad end to the Vandals’ run in the conference. Idaho is going back to the FCS level next season.
After their first meeting in 2004, when Troy won 47-7, nine years passed before both teams met again. Since then, Troy has gone 2-1 against Idaho, as the Vandals’ lone win occurred in 2015. The Trojans defeated the Vandals 34-13 last season.
Idaho at Troy
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 2 at 9:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Troy -18
Three Things to Watch
1. Defensive-minded Trojans
When it comes to efficiency, it’s difficult to find teams that do red zone defense and total defense better than Troy. Through eight games, Troy leads the nation in red zone defense, as it has yielded 15 scores in 26 attempts to opponents (57.7 percent).
Additionally, the Trojans are 11th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 17.3 points per game and 21st in total defense at 317.4 yards per game. Don’t forget Troy upset LSU in Baton Rouge earlier this season, holding the Tigers from the SEC to 21 points and 428 total yards on their own turf.
2. Trojan horse Jordan Chunn
Chunn (above, right) tallied a season-high 191 rushing yards in Troy’s stunning upset of LSU back in September. He exited the Trojans’ contest against South Alabama a week later with a leg injury that required stitches and has since sat out games against Georgia State and Georgia Southern.
He’s expected to return against Idaho and could be in for a bounce-back performance against a defense that allows 164.6 rushing yards per game. Chunn, who has had an illustrious collegiate career, needs only six touchdowns to become the Sun Belt’s all-time rushing touchdown leader (current mark is 48).
3. Idaho’s Aaron Duckworth
With Chunn nursing a leg injury, Duckworth has stated his case as the Sun Belt’s best running back. The Orange Park, Florida, native leads the conference with 739 rushing yards and as three touchdowns on the ground as well. Duckworth averages 5.7 yards per carry and has a season-best run of 74 yards.
Last week, Duckworth tallied 113 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and he added another 34 receiving yards. It was his third 100-yard game of the season. He will be tested against a Troy defense that has surrendered just 108.8 yards per game on the ground thus far.
The Trojans have already faced some of the top running backs in the country and fared pretty well against them, including Boise State’s Alexander Mattison (12 att., 82 yds., TD) and New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III (12, 69). Troy didn’t have to face LSU’s Derrius Guice, but the Trojans held the Tigers to 162 rushing yards on 26 carries (5.6 ypc) and no scores in their upset win earlier this season. The Trojans allowed a season-high 227 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to Georgia Southern last week, but the run-oriented Eagles needed 62 carries (3.7 ypc) to do so (and Troy won the game easily, 38-16).
What began as a bittersweet year for Idaho as it embarked on its last in the Sun Belt hasn’t yielded many highlights to this point. The Vandals will have to win out to reach bowl eligibility, and a date with Troy this week doesn’t bode well for those chances.
Troy has been able to sustain its upset of LSU in Baton Rouge and weather a two-game absence by running back Jordan Chunn to remain in the hunt in the Sun Belt. The Trojans do many things well and boast a talented offense to complement a defense that ranks among the stingiest in the nation. Look for Troy to pick up another victory in front of the home crowd Thursday night.
Prediction: Troy 30, Idaho 14
— 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.