ESPNU once again shines the bright lights on Statesboro, Georgia this Thursday night as the Georgia Southern Eagles take on the Troy Trojans. While most footballing eyes will surely be tuned to the Florida State-Louisville showdown kicking off simultaneously, there's always the remote control and the highlight reel.
Start Time: 7:30 P.M. ET
Streaming: ESPN3.com/WatchESPN App
Radio: Eagles here. Trojans here
Records: GSU (6-2, 5-0 Sun Belt), Troy (1-7, 1-3)
Live Stats: Check
Betting Line: Georgia Southern -25.5, Over/Under of 63
Troy Outlook: It's been a painful season in the land of Troy. The Trojans lost to rivals UAB and South Alabama (their first-ever loss against USA), dropped a game to FCS Abilene Christian and their coach is calling it quits at the end of the year. Things don't look to improve against the Eagles.
It isn't fun to watch Larry Blakeney, a legend coaching on a field named for him, go out on such a low note. After leading his team from Division II to the FBS and winning five Sun Belt straight titles during 24 years in charge, Blakeney hasn't finished above .500 since 2010.
There was a blip when he announced his pending retirement earlier this month. The Trojans churned out 41 points in their next contest to beat New Mexico State. But the offense has scored 27 points in the two games since, while Troy's 96th-ranked defense gave up 80. Troy surrendered close to 300 yards rushing to the Jags last week. It's scary to think what could happen against the Fritzkreig.
"We're just not quite good enough to drive the football on offense, or to make plays on defense to stop drives," Blakeney said about his team. " And that's bad medicine."
Blakeney also was complimentary of Southern during the pre-game press conference, saying he wanted Troy to be "like Georgia Southern" when it moved up to FCS/I-AA in the early 1990s.
A bit of a quarterback controversy has emerged for the Trojans. Brandon Silvers, a redshirt freshman, has started most of the year but split time against South Alabama with junior college transfer Dontreal Pruitt. They combined for 145 yards and Pruitt scored the only touchdown. As much as Troy has struggled, both are actually strong quarterbacks with decent mobility. Silvers sports five touchdowns passing and four on the ground.
Wide receiver Chandler Worthy is the real threat for Troy. He's got 573 yards and two touchdowns worth of kickoff returns alone (the longest was 99 yards, which I think is one short of a record). Southern fans -- don't get mad if kickoffs head straight for the sidelines. Tack on 30 receptions, three for touchdowns, and 10.8 yards per catch and you're looking at a dangerous receiver.
The team is a little Georgia State-esque with their lack of a running game. Brandon Burks, Troy's leading rusher, brings just 382 yards into this contest. The team sports 1,091 overall. They'll need a big night from Worthy and whoever throws to him to keep this one close.
Though it isn't likely to matter, Troy last played on a Friday night, meaning their short week isn't quite as short as their opponents'.
Georgia Southern Outlook: Assuming the Eagles have come down from the thrill of blowing out Georgia State (a game where they ran almost as hard as they trolled), Georgia Southern should take out Troy with ease.
Averaging 402 yards on the ground, Willie Fritz's offense runs for at least 50 more yards per game than any other team in the country. Last week's record-shattering 613 yards was more than eight other teams had all season at that point. Leading rusher Matt Breida carries 1,032 rushing yards into this game, meaning he can pass Troy's entire team with a solid night.
Blakeney touched on how hard it is to stop the Eagles, referring to this year's offense as the "quadruple option."
"I'm really concerned," he said. "There's the dive, the quarterback and the pitch. You tackle all of them guys, you got a chance."
As amazing as the starting quarterback/running back duo of Kevin Ellison and Breida has been, backups Favian Upshaw and LA Ramsby aren't too far behind. Add a seldom-used but deadly passing attack and it's not a fair fight. Georgia Southern turns it up higher every game, scoring 28, 34, 36, 47 and 69 over the last five.
Troy might gain some points through the air but there's no reason to believe the Eagles won't run wild Thursday night.
Prediction: The point spread opened at Southern -20.5 and jumped another five in short order. That's an astronomical number, especially considering this is a first-year FBS team. Still, it's one I see the Eagles covering with the aid of a rabid crowd in Statesboro.
The over looks like a sold play as well. No Georgia Southern game has been under 63 points since the App State contest back on Sept. 25. The Eagles covered the number last week by themselves. Two of Troy's last three games also jumped 63.
With Southern getting some national looks, I'd expect more than a few casual fans to flip over during breaks in the Florida State-Louisville game. A (hopefully) rowdy stadium will look great not only for the Eagles but for the entire Sun Belt.
Last thing: Here's to hoping Southern honors Blakeney prior to the game, as I heard South Alabama did on their jumbotron last week. Though these teams haven't met since 1995, Troy and Southern have played some fantastic games in the modern era.