TROY – Some are calling Saturday’s Troy-Southern Miss game a second season opener for the Trojans.
Troy coach Chip Lindsey said it’s ideal preparation for Sun Belt play.
Either way, it feels like a big game and an important barometer for future contests the Trojans (1-0) will play down the road.
“This is a game we’re excited about because it’s two really good programs,” Lindsey said this week. “This is another game where we can see where we’re at and the changes we need to make. … We’re getting to play a quality opponent at home who is similar to the type of teams we’ll face in Sun Belt play.”
The teams are similar in style. Both have undersized, fast, aggressive defenses. Troy’s offense showed good balance in the season-opening win over Campbell as it rushed for 245 yards and passed for 282. Kevin Perkins, once a Troy commit, leads the USM ground game. Running backs B.J. Smith and DK Billingsley were explosive in Troy’s opening win over Campbell.
Both have tall, athletic and productive wide receivers. Troy newcomers Reggie Todd and Kaylon Geiger combined for eight catches for 212 yards and a touchdown last week. Southern Miss (1-1) counters with Jordan Mitchell (13 catches, 227 yards) Jaylond Adams (7 catches, 77 yards) and Tim Jones (10 catches, 141 yards).
The Golden Eagles also expect the return of Quez Watkins, who hasn’t played in the first two games due to injury but led USM in catches, yards and touchdowns and was a first-team All-CUSA player last year.
Lindsey might well have been describing Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker as he talked about USM QB Jack Abraham.
“He’s a winner. He’ll be there early, last one to leave, first one to get there kind of guy. He’ll study the game. Very smart,” Lindsey said. “I think he’s a guy who, as a quarterback and a play-caller, you want a guy out there who you can trust, who can get you in the right play or right look. He’s that guy for them.”
Told that sounded a lot like Barker, Lindsey nodded.
“Kaleb, for us, would be that,” the coach said. “They’re probably a little different style. Jack is more of a pocket guy. Kaleb can make plays outside the pocket. Jack can still make those plays. He made a play the other night on a scramble for a touchdown. They’re very similar from a standpoint of mindset. It should be two good quarterbacks playing Saturday.”
Southern Miss routed Alcorn State in its opener and lost last week at Mississippi State. Troy was one of just nine teams in the country with a bye week last week. Defensive coordinator Brandon Hall said the Week 2 bye probably didn’t help the Trojans a whole lot.
“Week 2, you’re not really beat up enough as a team to get a benefit, and you don’t have enough information on your opponent to really get a jump on it,” Hall said. “We looked at their first game, but they were completely different in their second game. …
“They came out the first game in a lot of two-back sets and tried to run the football out of that. Last week, they got into a bunch of tight end/three-receiver sets and tried to expose Mississippi State there. … It’s one of those deals like it’s your first game again. You hold onto your hat the first 15 plays and then adjust. We just have to weather the storm early.”
There is a great deal of familiarity in the staffs and athletic administrators between the programs. Lindsey was USM’s offensive coordinator in 2014-15. Inside receivers coach John Carr was Southern Miss’ director of operations from 2013-15. Tight ends and S-backs coach Cole Weeks was a quarterback at Southern Miss and was a graduate assistant in 2015. Strength and conditioning coach SaJason Finley came to Troy after four years at USM.
Troy athletics director Brent Jones came to Troy from Southern Miss and succeeded Jeremy McClain, who returned to Hattiesburg after as the Trojans’ AD.
Troy is 16-3 at Veterans Memorial Stadium since the start of the 2016 season. The Trojans say they’ll take every advantage they can get.
“Two weeks to prepare for them is obviously helpful,” linebacker KJ Robertson said. “They’re an amazing team. They have so many weapons on the offensive side. Defensively, they’re a huge powerhouse.
“Like I said, they’re just a great team. I’m excited. The whole team is excited. I think Troy, itself, is excited. We’re ready to get out there and have fun with them, really. … This is really where we’ll see what we are, how far we’ve come along.”