Troy’s first road trip of the season wasn’t supposed to be a hold-your-breath affair.
Saturday afternoon’s game at Akron expected to match programs headed in opposite directions.
The Zips, under first-year head coach Tom Arth, appear to have done their part. Akron is 0-3 with losses at Illinois (42-3), vs. UAB (31-20) and at Central Michigan (45-24).
That offensive revival, sparked by the passing attack, coupled with Troy’s 47-42 loss to Southern Mississippi last week, puts more angst into the Trojans before they gave up 514 passing yards to the Golden Eagles.
“This is a good challenge for us. We’re going to see what we’re made of this week,” Troy defensive coordinator Brandon Hall said on Tuesday.
After giving up 47 last Saturday, sophomore linebacker Carlton Martial made it clear the defense will play with a chip on its shoulder.
“It’s a big game for us,” said Martial, who leads the Trojans with 29 tackles, 6½ for loss. “This game’s going to be a big (indicator) of what we have. Then we come back next week with Arkansas State to start conference play. So, yeah, a big few weeks for us. We’ve got to prepare ourselves.”
Troy head coach Chip Lindsey said Akron junior quarterback Kato Nelson has led the offense for a couple years.
“He was a member of the MAC (division) championship team as a freshman and I’m very impressed with him,” Lindsey said. “I think that staff is doing a great job with him and making the offense for him.”
Dustin Burkhart, Nate Stewart and Andre Williams are three playmaking wide receivers.
“Burkhart is a guy we need to watch and know where he is,” Lindsey said.
Based on watching Troy film last week, the Zips will have the ball in the air quite a bit. Trojan cornerback O’Shai Fletcher expects that.
“We’ve just got to go out there and prove ourselves. Especially with how young we are, people are going to come at us,” Fletcher said. “It gives us a chance to make plays. I wouldn’t really look at it as a bad thing. We’ve got to take advantage and make some plays and make them regret doing that.”
Troy had two freshmen at safety due to injury during last week’s game. Jaquez Dunmore and Dell Pettus may or may not start, but they’ll certainly be in the rotation.
“You have to grow up quick. Now is your time,” Martial said is the message to the safeties. “We understand that you’re young, and we’re going to have your back no matter what, but it’s time for us to come together and make this thing work.”
Offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh said the staff doesn’t get caught up in numbers in an effort to be balanced. Last week quarterback Kaleb Barker threw for a school-record 504 yards. The Trojans managed just 24 yards on the ground.
“We run so many RPO’s (run-pass options) that I can’t tell you when he’s going to hand it off,” Pugh said. “… Balance to us is how many times are our playmakers getting the ball in their hands.
“If it’s throwing for 500 or it’s rushing for 500, it doesn’t matter. As long as we are getting our playmakers the ball in space, that’s balance to us. … Explosive plays are what we are looking for.”
Lindsey said the Trojans need to bounce back in their first road trip and their final non-conference game of the season.
“We’re playing at their place, and it’s a big game for us,” the head coach said. “We need to respond, rebound and go on the road and play well. If we want to have any chance to win the Sun Belt, we need to be able to win on the road and play well on the road. I think our players understand that.”