TROY — Co-captain Jarvis Hayes, injured last week against Coastal Carolina, did not play Saturday. Senior A.J. Smiley, a backup Will linebacker, moved to Hayes’ bandit position. Smiley became the 23rd starter on Troy’s defense in this injury-plagued season.
Senior left guard Kirk Kelley also did not play due to injury. Fellow senior Bobby Klemm started in his place, his second start of the season (Southern Miss). The Trojans have started 18 different players on offense this season.
Without looking at the film, it likely was a successful debut for both. Klemm helped Troy rush for 273 yards and the Trojans finished with 603 overall.
Smiley played the bandit — an edge linebacker — as Troy forced nine sacks.
“He changed positions, and had to learn a whole new position in, like, a week,” linebacker Carlton Martial said of Smiley’s performance. “He came up really big for us today, doing his job. Glad he came to play today.”
It was the senior’s first start this season.
“This is my fifth year here, I know I need to step up and do my job,” Smiley said after the game, adding he was glad just to get a win. “Man, it’s a blessing. We really needed that. It’s homecoming. It’s a good feeling. We wanted to get in the locker room and sing the fight song. That’s what we did. It felt good to sing.”
Smiley recorded four tackles and had one quarterback hurry.
“I feel like I played good. Big thing with their option is do your assignment. My main assignment was the quarterback and pitch. We hit him good. I think we did a great job on that.”
Troy coach Chip Lindsey appreciated Smiley’s effort.
“Know this: he was willing to do whatever we asked him to do,” Lindsey said. “He’d never played that position, had to play on the line of scrimmage and it was probably out of his comfort zone, if you had to be real about it. I thought he played his tail off and really did a great job.”
Going for it: Lindsey said he wanted to be aggressive — and he certainly was.
“Against an option team, if they control the football you’re not going to get many possessions,” Lindsey said. “I knew we had to steal a possession or two.”
He went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Troy 34 on the game’s first possession.
In the second quarter, Georgia Southern went to its gadgets early. Facing fourth-and-4 from the Troy 48, a snap to an up back, C.J. Wright, off left tackle went for 10 yards and a first down for the Eagles. That continued a drive that resulted in the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game. Two plays later, Wesley Kennedy rushed up the middle and broke a 41-yard touchdown run.
On its next possession, Troy faced fourth-and-2 at the Georgia Southern 49. Micah Murphy took a handoff from punt protector Zacc Weldon and looked for an opening on the left side of the line. Darrell Baker Jr. wasn’t fooled, but Murphy lowered his shoulder and — by an inch or so — picked up the first down to extend Troy’s drive.
“It’s snapped to Weldon, I had my hands through my legs, like a fumblerooskie,” Murphy said. “I saw there for a while and took off. I saw there’s a guy (Baker) in there, so I tried to bust it out. He got a hand on me, but I kept my feet going and got the first down.”
“When you do it you have to execute it,” Lindsey said. “Micah Murphy is the guy who fought his butt off to get the first down and barely got it.
“That’s another kid, a walk-on kid here that does everything right and practices every day and then contributes on special teams and he has played some at safety this year. I’m really pleased to see him make a big play in this game like he did.”
That march ended with Kaleb Barker’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Tray Eafford.
Milestones: Kaleb Barker threw three touchdown passes, his 11th career game with multiple TD passes and eight such game of this season. He moved up to fourth on Troy’s single-season passing TDs list with 24.
The quarterback also passed Jeremy Rowell for ninth place on Troy’s career touchdowns responsible for (45). Ironically, Rowell was in the Georgia Southern coaches box. The former Troy quarterback and defensive coordinator is the outside linebackers coach for the Eagles.
Tray Eafford caught his ninth career TD pass for Troy and it came at a good time. Eafford’s TD covered 15 yards with 9:22 left in the first half. It immediately answered Georgia Southern’s first touchdown of the game and restored Troy’s lead to two touchdowns at 21-7. Eafford has caught three touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
Reggie Todd caught his fourth touchdown of the season to give Troy a 35-21 lead in the fourth quarter. Three of those TDs have come in the past two games.
Bret Clark caught his third TD pass of the season to cap Troy’s opening drive. It was the fourth opening-drive touchdown of the season for the Trojans.
Tyler Sumpter is now tied for fourth place in Troy history with 36 career field goals. He was 2-for-2 on Saturday.
Uniform combo: Troy wore chrome helmets, cardinal jerseys and black pants for the first time this season. It was just the second game in black pants. The Trojans wore cardinal jerseys and black pants for the Southern Miss game, but had cardinal helmets that night.
Homecoming queen: Savannah Maddox was crowned homecoming queen at halftime.
What’s next: Troy hits the road again, headed to San Marcos, Texas, to play Sun Belt West foe Texas State next Saturday at 2 p.m. Coming into Saturday’s game against South Alabama, Texas State was 2-6 overall, 1-3 in the Sun Belt. Its lone league win was a 37-34 overtime victory over Georgia State at home on Sept. 21.
Last season, Tyler Sumpter kicked four field goals to account for all of Troy’s points in a 12-7 victory. Troy managed just 220 offensive yards, outgained by Texas State’s 284, but the Trojans forced six Bobcat turnovers, including five interceptions.