We had a chance to speak with Brett Romberg who will be the game analyst for beIN SPORTS television which will televise Saturday’s 6pm (CDT) game between two rising teams, Southern Mississippi and Troy.
Troy was a national story throughout its game with second-ranked Clemson last week before eventually losing 30-24.
Since Troy was not able to sack Clemson's Deshaun Watson last week Trojan coach Neal Brown has already declared, "We must figure out a way to get pressure on the quarterback", I asked Brett if he thought Troy would be able to get to USM’s Nick Mullens.
"You know, I asked that of coach Brown and he admitted it would be a difficult task. The Southern Miss offensive line is strong and he told me that center Cameron Tom is the most impressive lineman he's seen to-date."
Brett was a concensus all American center, a Dave Rimington Award winner in his days at Miami (Fl), and he didn’t give up a single sack in his entire collegiate career. His opinion of collegiate centers and their significance in pass protection is worthy of attention.
"What I see is that Cameron Tom has a lot of intelligence and at the center position, that is key. The center controls so much of what happens."
Troy’s most effective weapon for bringing pressure is defensive end Rashad Dillard and he will challenge the Southern Miss tackles who are new this season.
"Dillard is able come from the edges, but Southern Miss is getting good play from left tackle Ty Pollard," Brett commented. "On the other side, they’re using that converted defensive player (Will Freeman) and it seems to be holding up okay."
He was quick to point out that not all of the edge-rush game is determined by those on the edges.
"Remember—-going back to that center position—-a good center has quite a bit of freedom to float around and help the tackles. I mean, you get someone like Dillard coming hard into the backfield and a good center like Tom who is fleet can just step over and give a rib shot when those defense ends don't expect it."
I suggested that if the Southern Mississippi offensive line is able to protect and Mullens' continues his excellence of long-ball accuracy, USM's Isaiah Jones who is a Florida State transfer and comes with the height (6’4") and speed one would expect from a Tomahawk refugee, might have a big day. If the Trojans couldn't cover Clemson's deep receivers last week, why would anyone think they could cover Jones now?
"You know, Troy recruited Jones so they know a lot about him already. Troy’s focus this week will be to not let anyone get behind the secondary. To do that, they will back off coverages somewhat. They're also going to add help with a safety over the top. And, Troy has that (Kris) Witherspoon guy back there who is a hard hitter. Coach Brown told me he has a lot of faith in Vic (Troy defensive coordinator Vic Koenning) to get the secondary prepared."
With the Saturday forecast indicating 91-degree temperatures, Brett believes stamina will be an important consideration.
"I really wonder how Troy is planning things from an offensive standpoint. With the heat and those kinds of conditions, will their two coordinators roll the dice and stick with a no huddle, quick offense? Last week they ran 80-some plays but I'm wondering if they will do that again on Saturday."
Southern Mississippi's plan of attack will not be a surprise. The Golden Eagles will build a foundation of running the football with Ito Smith and see if the Trojans can stop it. So far, no one has stopped Smith and that increases the probability that, at some point, Troy will move a safety forward. If so, Mullens will give Jones the nod and we’ll all find out if Troy’s plan to stop the deep ball is effective against the likes of Isaiah Jones.
Coach Brown is aware of those issues. "We've got to stop their running back. I think everything starts on their offense with Ito Smith at running back. We have to stop their run!"
When asked about the physical and emotional condition of his players following a humid slog at Clemson, coach Brown told Brett, "We're in great shape and we're full of spirit!"
"And, he really should be," Brett added. "Against Clemson, they were very close to winning that game. They had two bad snaps, a fumble at the goal line, another turnover after a questionable call. Really, that game could have gone either way."
I wondered if an emotional loss to Clemson and the disappointment that followed might keep Troy from rising to the occasion against USM. I asked Brett how things like that affected him when he played for Miami.
"It really depends on a lot of things. I remember we were playing Temple and I looked up at the scoreboard and we were down 10-0. It wasn’t hard to come to say to myself, hey, it's time to get going. I remember another time when we played a game after 9/11 and that was very emotional. That was very hard. It’s really hard to predict how these two teams will respond. I will say this: neither team can afford any kind of a lull."
Both Southern Mississippi and Troy have ascended the rankings faster than most people expected and that's what makes Saturday's match-up so intriguing. Which team will prevail and reap the rewards of another week in the nation’s spotlight?
Look for our feature ("A Kiss of Escape") that tells more of Brett Romberg’s interesting personal story. Then, watch him as the color analyst on beIN SPORTS network and its 6pm CDT broadcast of one of the nation's most interesting matchups.