Don’t look now, but a win over South Alabama this week will seal bowl eligibility for Troy. The Trojans, 3-0 in the Sun Belt Conference, grabbed the nation’s attention in Week 2 after taking Clemson the distance in a 30-24 loss and has since rattled off three consecutive wins with their most recent coming against Georgia State last week.
Like Troy, South Alabama grabbed college football fans’ attention in the first week of the season after beating Mississippi State in Starkville, but head coach Joey Jones' team hasn't been able to capitalize on that signature win. The Jaguars moved to 3-3 on the season after their 17-7 loss to Arkansas State last week. Prior to the loss, South Alabama had won back-to-back games in which it scored 83 points. Winless in Sun Belt play, the Jaguars look to nab their first conference victory Thursday in Mobile.
This is the fifth all-time meeting between these two teams. It’s split at two wins apiece with South Alabama beating Troy 24-18 last season.
Troy at South Alabama
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: South Alabama +8
Three Things to Watch
1. Troy’s no-fly zone
When it comes to defending the pass, there’s no better group of defensive backs in the country than Troy’s. On the season, the Trojans have tallied 14 interceptions, the most of any team in the FBS. Troy also ranks in the top 25 nationally in passes defended with 28. Against Clemson’s Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Trojans limited him to 27-of-53 passing and a RAW QB rating of 36.5, the lowest of his career.
2. Have ball, will score
Troy’s offense this season, for the most part, has been able to impose its will on opponents. The Trojans have broken the half-century mark in points on two occasions (57 vs. Austin Peay, 52 vs. New Mexico State) and are averaging a Sun Belt-best 39.2 points per game. That’s also good enough for 21st in the FBS.
Running back Jordan Chunn can beat you with his legs, quarterback Brandon Silvers has established himself as one of the conference’s top-tier passers and the Trojans’ defense also has contributed to the scoring. If that’s not enough, special teams play under head coach Neal Brown has improved greatly. Troy scored on a blocked punt and a kickoff return in its 52-6 dominating win over New Mexico State on Sept. 24.
3. South Alabama's Randy Allen
Allen, a junior college transfer from the College of San Mateo (Calif.), has been a bright spot at defensive end and linebacker for the Jaguars. He played sparingly last season and tallied just three tackles, but he’s poised for a breakout year after his strong a first half.
Against FCS member Nicholls, Allen had a monster performance with six tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. On the year, the Sacramento native has 36 total tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, six quarterback hurries, and three forced fumbles. He leads the Sun Belt and is among the top five nationally in tackles for a loss, sacks and forced fumbles. Not bad for a first impression.
Troy and its unblemished league record enter Thursday night’s game in the driver’s seat in the Sun Belt conference. South Alabama began its season with much optimism after its road win against Mississippi State, but has since struggled with consistency.
Both teams consider the other a strong conference rival, and with rivalry games, anything can happen. The early week road contest sets up nicely for a South Alabama upset, but Troy should eventually pull away in what should be an entertaining and fairly competitive matchup.
Prediction: Troy 35, South Alabama 17
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of Troy Athletics)