Troy’s inaugural season under head coach Chip Lindsey ended with a 5-7 record and snapped the Trojans’ bowl streak at three games.
Does that make it a lost season?
Nobody likes a sub-.500 season, Troy’s first since 2015. Fewer like the way the year ended — with a combined 101-16 thrashing by Sun Belt West champion Louisiana (53-3) and East champ Appalachian State (48-13).
However, the way the season unfolded — with a ridiculous number of injuries on top of the rash of transfers that occurred in the first six months of 2019 — indicates that it could have been worse.
“If you look at the team coming out of spring practice, it’s completely different than the team we finished with tonight,” Lindsey said after the loss to the Mountaineers last Friday. “There are several factors involved in that.
“We had lost some close games early, which probably didn’t help us. Then the injury bug hit us a little bit.”
To be fair, Troy didn’t get nipped by the injury bug. It got devoured by the mutant offspring of a would-be mating of a brown recluse and black widow. The Trojans started 22 different players on defense and had 19 different players get at least one start on the offense.
The season was on the brink after a 3-5 start. Troy rallied back to 5-5 with impressive wins against Georgia Southern and at Texas State, but ran out of gas against the two division champs.
“Our guys kept battling. We improved and won some games,” Lindsey said. “Here at the end we played really good football teams and we’re not at full strength and we didn’t take advantage of opportunities and that’s what happens.”
Lindsey said it was never about the Trojans’ effort.
“Our guys never quit. I love these guys. I love this team,” the coach said. “This will be a team I’ll always remember, just the sheer fact that it’s my first one. We’ve got a lot of winners in that dressing room.
“Our people should be proud of who these guys are. None of like to be 5-7, for sure, but there’s a group of guys in there that have given a lot to this program.”
The coach said he learned a lot about his team over the course not just of the season, but the eight months before that. A lot of younger players got a lot of valuable experience this season — whether or not they were ready to play Division I football.
“I came to Troy in January and had an idea of what this team was about,” Lindsey said. “As the season went on, I think I got a really good sense of who we are and what we have. The good thing is we have a good group of kids that will make this fun.”
There are pieces in place that suggest the turnaround can come faster than expected.
Carlton Martial is Troy’s first All-American on defense. Will Choloh can be a force in the middle of the defensive line. They are both sophomores.
Martial called the season “a big learning experience” for the defense, which ended the season with five freshmen — safeties Dell Pettus, Jaquez Dunmore and Craig Slocum and cornerbacks O’shai Fletcher and Reddy Steward — in the two-deep rotation.
“It improved a lot,” Martial said when asked about the level of communication and his hope for next season. “Dell Pettus and Jaquez Dunmore started making some coverage calls on the back end. I really saw strides from them. I’m really excited about those two.
“We see what we have to do. We see the problems we had this year. It can’t happen again.”
Running back B.J. Smith was the Sun Belt’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year before he was cut down with a knee injury early in the second game. He is expected to return.
“You mix in a few others who were hurt or transferred in and our team will look different next year and will have a chance to be really good,” Lindsey said. “But we need to put the work in during the offseason.”
The current Trojans have to take care of their business and finish the semester strong in the classroom. Lindsey and his staff need to lock down future Trojans with a big finish to an already encouraging signing class. Troy loses three veteran offensive linemen and fullback Zacc Weldon, who made 51 consecutive starts.
Another Troy senior — record-setting quarterback Kaleb Barker — was asked what he expects from next year’s team.
“A complete 180,” Barker said. “I trust coach Lindsey. It wasn’t hard for me to buy into what he does. I think the fans should expect that and as a program we should demand it.”
Barker said even though there were similarities in Troy’s offensive scheme under Lindsey compared to Neal Brown’s attack, it’s not the same.
“It’s hard when you have a lot of things implemented and you come in with a different guy,” Barker said. “You do things differently. Nobody does everything the same. I’ve got full trust.”