TROY — DK Billingsley’s 70-yard touchdown run up the middle with five minutes remaining did more than seal Troy’s 49-28 victory over Georgia Southern last Saturday.
It further solidified the transformation of Billingsley from role player to expected backup to what Chip Lindsey called “the workhorse” of the offense.
The sophomore running back from Scottsboro gained 163 yards on just 14 carries and scored two touchdowns — he added an 18-yard run in the first quarter that gave the Trojans a 14-0 lead.
Billingsley raised his season totals to 779 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on 128 carries — numbers he wouldn’t have dared to hope for in July. That’s when B.J. Smith and Jabir Daughtry-Frye were fully healthy. Smith was the Sun Belt’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Frye was the next most experienced back.
That was before Smith was lost to season-ending injury in the second game and Frye was hurt in the same game and didn’t play again until the South Alabama game.
“That guy does everything you ask him to do,” Troy coach Chip Lindsey said. “Off the field he goes to class. Good grades, he competes in the classroom, makes good decisions.
“He’s a kid that came in here probably thinking he was the No. 3 guy with the opportunity to get some carries here or there. Now he’s had to be the workhorse of our team. I think that shows his maturity. He’s really come in and settled our running backs down. Been really solid.”
Billingsley said the season has far exceeded his expectations from a personal point of view. He has said he always prepared like the starter, even when he knew he wasn’t.
“I thought I was just going to be a backup, helping B.J. when he needs a break,” Billingsley said. “Now, my role has completely changed. I’m really getting the load of the carries now.
“It’s a humbling experience of how a situation can change at any moment. I feel like I’m really embracing it, how to be a leader. I feel like that’s what my next goal should be, how to be a leader on my side of the ball and in my position group.”
That long run: Billingsley’s run also displayed an impressive in-game adjustment for Troy’s RPO (run-pass option) offense.
The Trojans got a similar look from the Eagles defense on that play earlier in the game. Even though it was a called run, Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker made a correct read and threw a short completion to Luke Whittemore on the left sideline.
“We were able to get to the sideline and make an adjustment and make sure we got it handled if they did it again,” offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh said. “This time, we felt the safety was a little too tight and we did a much better job the second time around.”
In fact, Barker later said it was a perfect run call against that look. The cornerback blitzed, a safety moved to flat to cover the corner’s responsibility and Troy’s offensive line blocked it perfect. Billingsley did the rest.
“It was good to see our guys make an adjustment and execute it,” Pugh said. “Obviously, DK made a great cut and outran them to the end zone.”
Getting better: The young guys aren’t so young anymore.
“They’ve played seven, eight or nine games now,” Lindsey said.
“We’ve had some guys grow up as the season goes on,” the coach said. “They’ve gotten some more experience and you’re starting to see them play with more and more confidence.”
Safety Dell Pettus, a true freshman from Harvest, is the leader of the freshmen. But defensive lineman Desmond Barkley, who because of Troy’s thin numbers up front likely won’t be able to redshirt, and Javon Solomon, another defensive end who is expected back soon, is another freshman who has had an impact.
Defensive back O’shai Fletcher is a starting cornerback. Jamontez Woods, a freshman running back, is expected to return from injury and should make the rotation.
“I think the future’s bright with those guys,” Lindsey said. “Obviously, you throw in some newcomers to what we’ll have coming next year, plus the guys that are returning, I like the way this team will look in the spring.”
Lindsey said it’s not that tough deciding to take off the redshirt on a prospect, especially with Troy’s injury situation this season.
“Here’s where we’re at. We have to have enough bodies to play,” the coach said. “We’ll take some guys and if we don’t have to play them, we wouldn’t. But Desmond was forced into action last week. It is what it is. You have to try to win the games this year. If we don’t have enough guys, we’ll play them.
“It’ll depend on the health of our team as we finish. But, if we’re going to play them, then let’s go ahead and play them in the last three or four games. That way they’ll get six or seven games of experience.”
Injury updates: There was better news — at least, not worse news — on the injury front after Saturday’s game. For a team that sent out two of its four captains in street clothes (Jarvis Hayes, B.J. Smith) for the pre-game coin flip, Troy will take that.
Lindsey said other than the normal “bumps and bruises,” the Trojans came out of the Georgia Southern game reasonably healthy.
“For the first time this year our trainer did not go on the field during the game — which was good. I thought that was a win, you know?” Lindsey said.
Of course, there had to be some adversity.
“The big thing we’ve got is sickness,” the coach added. “People have been sick. The flu’s going around. My son’s had it. Different people here (have it). Hopefully by the end of the week we’ll have some guys healthy.”
Barker not a blocker: As great as quarterback Kaleb Barker was — and he was 27-for-41 with three touchdowns and 303 yards passing — he will not be playing pulling guard anytime soon.
Barker got less than high marks for his block on a reverse that Kaylon Geiger ran.
Lindsey stuck up for his senior quarterback, however, and noted Barker did just what he was supposed to do by “getting in the way” for Geiger.
“He’s not supposed to. We don’t want him to make contact,” the coach said. “You can’t blind-side block anymore. They’ll throw you a penalty for that. That’s one less hit that Barker can take, so I didn’t want him getting hit or we get him run over or anything. So I thought he did a good job of getting in the way.
“It’s a different game, man. Back when I played, you could peel back and that was your chance to get somebody. Our coaches encouraged it back then, but nowadays they’ll throw you out. So we’ve got to be careful.”
POW: Troy’s player of the week on offense was Billingsley, who rushed for 168 yards and added three receptions for 28 yards.
Marcus Webb had seven tackles, including three sacks, and was the defensive player of the week. Troy’s nine sacks against Georgia Southern’s Shai Werts tied the Trojans’ single-game record in a Sun Belt contest (Coastal Carolina in 2018).
Finally, A.J. Smiley, who made his first career start at bandit linebacker, was named the special teams player of the week.
“He played on every special teams — 21 snaps on special teams,” Lindsey said. “That’s really high for one player.
“I thought he did a nice job handling a new position and also being one of our leaders on special teams.”