It’s not so much what happened in Troy’s 52-33 loss to Georgia State in Atlanta on Saturday night, it’s what’s going to happen next?
What’s going to happen now that the Trojans’ Sun Belt Conference fate is out of their hands, just three games into the eight-game league slate?
What’s going to happen when the only goal players have talked about all season — a division title and berth in the conference championship game — is unlikely to be accomplished?
Troy is 3-4 overall, 1-2 in the Sun Belt after losing to Georgia State for just the second time in eight meetings.
“We’ll see what we’re made of next week,” head coach Chip Lindsey said outside Troy’s locker room after the game.
The Trojans play Coastal Carolina at 2 p.m. (CT) this Saturday in Conway, S.C. Junior receiver Tray Eafford, who caught three passes for 90 yards — including a 64-yarder from quarterback Kaleb Barker that is the Trojans’ longest play from scrimmage this season — said this week’s road trip is a huge test of character.
“It’s pretty big, man. We can’t let this game affect us,” Eafford said. “We don’t control our own destiny anymore, but from here on out we’re going to try our best to win the games, practice hard and execute.”
Barker, who furiously rallied the Troy offense in the fourth quarter after the Trojans trailed 35-14, also talked about what’s next for this team. He indicated a sense of urgency of a college career suddenly in the second half of his senior season.
“To the younger guys, play for the older guys because you’ve only got a few left,” Barker said when asked what his message would be to his teammates this week. “It’s about pride. These guys have to want it. You can’t half-butt everything, you’ve got to give it your all.
“At the end of the day, you may have five years of this if you redshirt but you only get four on the field. Just take advantage of it. Hopefully, we go to Carolina and get one.”
The quarterback was 12-for-14 for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes. He finished the game 34-for-45 passing for 421 yards and the two TDs — a 23-yard strike to tight end A.J. Lewis and a 7-yard pass to Khalil McClain, who caught eight passes for 128 yards.
Barker again had spectacular numbers — Troy has scored 42, 43 and 33 points in three of its losses — but walked away on the short end of a frustrating final score. He put the blame squarely on himself.
“A lot of it was me, to be honest with you,” he said after Georgia State had four sacks totaling a loss of 33 yards and five pass breakups. “I think probably two of the sacks were on the offensive line or just protection, in general. The rest of them were on me.”
He took a sack that stalled Troy’s second drive of the game for a seven-yard loss. On the next play, Tyler Sumpter missed a field goal attempt from 51 yards. He held the ball too long on several other sacks.
“I’ve got to step up. As the game went along, I got more comfortable and sat in there,” Barker said. “I’ve got to be better.”
He also credited a fast, aggressive and physical Georgia State defense.
“That’s a really good football team — much improved from the teams I’ve played in the past,” the quarterback noted. “And those guys are hungry, man. They’re going after everything we’ve been the last few years. They played a good game.”
They were even better on the other side of the football. Tra Barnett set a school record with 242 yards on 34 carries and two touchdowns. Seth Paige rushed for 109 yards and a TD on nine attempts. Quarterback Dan Ellington ran for two scores and threw for two more as he completed 18 of 25 passes. He was only sacked once.
The Panthers gained 579 yards on 82 offensive plays. They ran it 57 times for 390 yards. By contrast, Troy gained 517 yards on 69 plays with 23 rushing attempts for 96 yards.
Trojan running back DK Billingsley scored three rushing touchdowns — a first for Troy since Jordan Chunn scored three times against Alabama State early in the 2017 season — and added his longest career run with a 53-yarder. He finished with 81 yards on nine carries.
Georgia State’s ground game was as dominant as it was surprising. Troy was ranked 11th nationally against the run coming into the game, giving up an average of 156.6 yards on the ground.
“The bottom line is they ran for 390 yards. It’s hard to keep them out of the end zone when they do that,” Lindsey said.
“Not our day. We didn’t play good enough to win. Tonight, Georgia State was better than us. That’s just the way it was and you’ve got to tip your hat to them. They outplayed us, they outcoached us, they did everything better than we did tonight.”
With five games left in the regular season, the coach will be eager to see what comes next.
“We’ve got to go to work. We’ve got another big road test,” Lindsey said. “We lost the opportunity to control our own destiny. Now we’ve got to put our fate in somebody else’s hands — and take care of our own business.”