TROY — Troy and Georgia Southern seem to be on different tracks as the Trojans head into Saturday’s homecoming game against the Eagles.
Georgia Southern (5-3, 3-1 Sun Belt) started the season 1-3, but have won four in a row. The Eagles are coming off a road victory at No. 20 Appalachian State.
Troy (3-5, 1-3) has lost four of its last five games, including last week’s 36-35 result at Coastal Carolina, which scored a touchdown and game-winning two-point conversion with 30 seconds remaining.
“Seeing them early in the year when I was getting ready for South Alabama, they look like a different team,” Troy head coach Chip Lindsey said of the Eagles. “I think what you’re seeing is a team that has gotten better and has gotten some momentum. They have won four in a row and they had a big one on the road to cap it. So, they are going to come here with a lot of confidence, for sure.”
Troy will have to generate its own momentum on Saturday. Lindsey said the Trojans have given great effort, despite not getting the results they’ve wanted. Three of their five losses have come by a total of 13 points.
“The only answer we have is to turn around and go to work and keep fighting,” Lindsey said. “I think that’s what this football team is going to do and has been doing. Then, hopefully, we’ll get a few breaks down the stretch.
“But this team is very resilient, and I think they have a lot of character and they’ll continue to fight, practice and play extremely hard and make Troy University proud.”
Homecoming would be a fine time to start a late-season surge. The defense will be challenged by a run-first, spread option attack that will demand discipline.
“They’re very good at what they do,” Lindsey said. “We have to be sound. We have to always have someone on the dive, the quarterback, the pitch. You have to be a disciplined defense, making sure every play you’re where you’re supposed to be.
“I think that’s the challenge this week. Getting our guys focused on doing their job every single play, because the one time you don’t it could go to the house.”
Georgia Southern averages 269.3 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles have attempted just 74 passes this season. Troy, by contrast, averages about 40 passes per game.
Eagles quarterback Shai Werts, who has missed two games this season, is a productive option quarterback. He is third on the team rushing with 386 yards. He is just 23-for-48 passing this season, but has thrown two touchdowns and no interceptions. He didn’t thrown an interception all of last season, the only FBS quarterback who started every game to avoid a pick.
“He is a fantastic player. He’s smart, tough and very athletic,” Lindsey said of Werts. “He’s a spark for them.”
J.D. King leads the Eagles with more than 500 yards rushing. Wesley Kennedy III is next with over 450 yards on just 51 carries.
“They’re an option team out of the shotgun. They run many different formations and are always looking to outnumber you and get an advantage,” Lindsey said.
And while third down has been a nemesis at times for Troy’s defense, winning on first down may be just as important on Saturday.
“It’s more important this week than any time before because of what they do on offense,” Lindsey said. “You don’t want them to always have third-and-1 or -2 or -3 because that’s what they do. …
“Third-and-short for them is like the rabbit in the briar patch. It’s kind of their deal. They have a guy that makes good decisions so it’s a tough offense to defend.”
That message has been relayed to the players.
“First down’s very important. Coach preaches us to win first down, especially against a team like Georgia Southern,” nose guard Will Choloh said. “If they’re backed up, it’s going to be tough for them to throw the ball. That’s not their type of style.”
Defensive coordinator Brandon Hall said the battles along the line of scrimmage will determine the winner.
“Our guys will be ready to play. It’s a big game, it’s homecoming, be a good crowd, hopefully,” Hall said. “We’ve just got to be the more physical team. Try to do what we did last week as far as attacking. I think we’ll have a chance.”