TROY – B.J. Smith, Troy’s star running back, one of the Trojans’ four team captains and the Preseason Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year, is out for the season after suffering a knee injury that requires surgery.
Chip Lindsey gave that grim report at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
“That’s a huge blow for us because he’s a great player, but an even better person and leader for our team,” Lindsey said of the senior from Millbrook. “He’ll still be a very good leader for us and doing all that, but we’re heartbroken over his injury.
“At the same time, it’s college football and the next man has to be ready. We have some guys who will get some opportunities now. We wish B.J. the best in his recovery and hopefully we can get him back healthy as soon as we can, even though it won’t be this year.”
Smith is a fourth-year senior, so he could come back next season on a medical redshirt. Lindsey said he hasn’t discussed that with Smith yet – but quickly added, “We’ll definitely take him back, that’s for sure.”
Smith had 10 carries for 108 yards in the season opener against Campbell. He was hurt trying to make a leaping, twisting catch along the Troy sideline during a touchdown drive in the second quarter of Saturday’s 47-42 loss to Southern Mississippi.
Running back D.K. Billingsley said the loss of Smith hurts him personally, and the team.
“I hate it that B.J. got hurt. I was bummed about it just to see my buddy go down,” Billingsley said. “He was going to have a really great season. He’s definitely in my prayers and the prayers of the other guys, too.”
Last week, Billingsley talked about wanting to be a complementary player to Smith. Now, he’s the leader in the running backs room.
“Unfortunate circumstances. My role is going to increase more,” said Billingsley, a sophomore from Scottsboro. “I’m ready for the challenge to get ready, to be a leader, to have the young guys under me get ready to go, too.”
Linebacker Carlton Martial said Smith’s absence is felt across the team.
“I’m sure everybody’s heartbroken about it,” Martial said. “It’s hard not having B.J. Smith in the backfield. He’s like a brother to me. He’s been a mentor, a big brother to me. We’re tight. I go to his house, all that. We just hang out. …
“But, I mean, we still have a season to go on. We look for the next man up.”
Lindsey said he trusts Billingsley’s ability.
“DK is a fantastic kid. He’s a very smart and knowledgeable football player who has already had a big role for us,” the head coach said. “He’ll get a little bit more of the load now, for sure, and we’re confident he’ll do a great job. We know one guy can’t replace a player like B.J., so we know we’ll need multiple guys ready to play. But, I’m really pleased with DK’s progress.”
Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson tweeted out his reaction to Smith’s injury.
“Thoughts and prayers lifted up … always a classy & sharp young man who played the game w passion,” tweeted Anderson, who recently lost his wife, Wendy, to breast cancer.
RB depth: It’s never a good time to lose your star running back, but it’s even more difficult when several backups aren’t 100 percent.
Behind Billingsley, two of Troy’s other running backs – junior Jabir Daughtry-Frye and freshman Jamontez Woods – left Saturday’s game dinged up. Frye, who opened the game with a big kickoff return, was limited to just one carry.
“We’re hoping those guys won’t be out long. We don’t know yet, kind of day-to-day,” Lindsey said. “We definitely need those guys to get healthy and play for us. Then we’ve got Trevon Woolfork (redshirt freshman), and got some other guys that are waiting on their opportunities.”
Offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh stressed the next-man-up mentality.
“You have DK, you’ve got Jabir, you have Jamontez, you have Trevon. There is still depth in that room,” Pugh noted. “We hated that B.J went down, but hopefully he will bounce back and get back. Those guys have to believe in the system, believe in the offense and go out there and have confidence that they can do it and they can.
“They show it in practice all the time. They are here for a reason and we are going to coach those guys up hard this week and get them ready to go on Saturday.”
Other injuries: Unfortunately, the injuries weren’t limited to the running backs room. Lindsey announced that receiver Demontrez Brown (knee) also will be lost for the season after he was hurt during the opener against Campbell.
“We were hoping it wasn’t going to be that serious, but it is,” the coach said. “So, we’ve lost those two guys, and we’ll miss them tremendously because they’re both great kids and great people.”
On the defensive side, Troy was playing with a patchwork secondary at times during Saturday’s game.
Senior captain Melvin Tyus (knee sprain), a safety, didn’t start. The other safety, Kyle Nixon, got dinged up early. Their spots were filled by redshirt freshman Jaquez Dunmore, who started for Tyus, and freshman Dell Pettus, who came in for Nixon at free safety.
“By the second quarter we were down to two freshmen in there,” defensive coordinator Brandon Hall said.
Hall said Tyus is still “kind of day-to-day.”
“He had like a knee sprain deal in the first game,” Hall said. “He’s getting better, close to being back. … We’re still waiting to see what Kyle’s status is. He took a hard hit and got a little ding.”
Long night: Losing both starting safeties contributed to the tough night for the defense.
Hall said hadn’t been in too many games like that. Southern Mississippi had 514 yards passing. Jaylond Adams had 180 yards receiving and Quez Watkins added 209.
“Don’t get me wrong, a couple of those catches by 16 (Watkins) were great plays,” Hall said. “I was more discouraged about the uncovered. That’s what we can’t have. We can’t have guys running down the middle of the field wide open.”
He said Southern Miss had 10 pass completions of 20 yards or longer and noted the Golden Eagles converted on 11 of 17 third downs. But he said second down was the culprit.
“What was crazy was 20 of the 29 second downs were second-and-long,” the coordinator said. “We won a lot on first down. But only six of the 17 third downs were third-and-long. The first two (USM) drives were touchdowns and the next five drives we held them to a punt or field goal.
“It was the start of the game and the end of the game where we got a little fatigued. They hit us on a couple mesh routes where we were in man and didn’t go with the under. Probably should have went zone there. That’s no excuse. We’ve got to hold ourselves accountable and that starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job having those guys ready.”
Martial said he didn’t think anybody could score 47 points on Troy.
“Our defense as a whole, we have to be better,” said the sophomore linebacker who made 16 tackles, 4½ behind the line of scrimmage.
Cornerback O’shai Fletcher called the whole night “a learning experience.” He said Hall didn’t go crazy during the marathon film session on Sunday.
“Coach Hall, he came in there and sat us down. He didn’t really just get on us, he just kept coaching us,” Fletcher said. “When we sat down and watched it, it was the things that we’ve practiced.
“We practiced that, but when you get in a game-time situation, things are moving faster. So it was just like little executions that we missed that just haunts you, you know? The next day, it’s like, ‘Man, I knew I was supposed to do this and I just didn’t do it.’ It was just little things like that.”
Players of the Week: Lindsey announced Troy’s players of the week and there weren’t many surprises. Quarterback Kaleb Barker, who threw for a Troy-record 504 yards and four touchdowns, was the offensive player of the week, as well as the Sun Belt’s.
Will Choloh took the defense’s honors with nine tackles and being disruptive to the USM running game. Hall added that Martial “got his usual 80,000 tackles” and could have been the POW for the defense.
Reggie Todd was the special teams player of the week with his 69-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that ignited the crowd of 27,108 – the fifth-largest crowd in Veterans Memorial Stadium history.
Todd’s TD cut USM’s lead to 33-28 with still 11:28 left in the game. Martial and Tyus were trying to pump up the defense after USM had scored on Jordan Mitchell’s 51-yard TD pass from backup receiver Neil McLaurin on a trick play that put the visitors up 33-21.
“We were like, ‘OK, we’re still in this game. Something big is about to happen,’” Martial said. “Then Reggie takes it back and we’re like, ‘See? It’s never over. We still have a lot of time. Just keep your heads up, keep on playing and stick together.’”