Neal Brown and the Troy Trojans had been riding high ever since their huge road win over LSU. With ESPN2 coming to town for the Battle for the Belt, the Trojan infomercial was suppose to continue.
Superdog South Alabama played the spoiler again.
For the third time in as many seasons, South Alabama hit the road as at least a 17-point dog and pulled off a road upset over much more talented squad. In 2015 it was San Diego State, in 2016 it was Mississippi State, and in 2017 it was Troy.
In what turned into a defensive battle, the difference was South Alabama’s ability to stop the run. Troy entered this game having one of the best rushing offenses in the country per S&P+. In the five metrics used to grade ground games, the Trojans ranked in the top 25 in four of the five categories. On paper this appeared to be a significant advantage for Troy over South Alabama.
The Trojans were held to 30 rushing yards on 20 carries as the running game was quickly made very one dimensional by a physical South Alabama front seven. After running for 191 yards against LSU, Chunn was stymied early and often and would finish the night with 10 carries for 28 yards. The senior tailback was stopped on a fourth and one, fumbled in scoring territory, tackled for a safety, and knocked out of the game in the third quarter due to injury. Things could not have gone much worse for the Troy ground game.
With the rushing attack being so inefficient, this caused Neal Brown’s offense to go to the air 46 times and senior quarterback Brandon Silvers would only average 5.7 yards per attempt. The Trojans are still having a hard time finding big plays in the vertical passing game and the Jags were able to keep all of the dink-and-dunk passes in check for most of the night. For the season, Silvers is on pace to throw four touchdowns and six interceptions.
The story of the game, however, was Troy’s inability to finish drives. S&P+ had the Trojans ranking 101st in this measure as the Troy offense is having difficulties getting points once they are inside the 40 of their opponents. In the first half, five of Troy’s eight possessions would enter scoring territory. Troy would be stopped by two turnover on downs, a fumble, a interception, and a missed field goal. There’s your ballgame.
Troy would only enter scoring territory twice in the second half and would only come away with one touchdown. Freshman Evan Legassey had a really tough night as the true freshman kicker missed two short field goals fairly easily. For the night, Troy only had 1.1 points per trip inside the 40. The national average is 4.4.
Troy continues to be excellent on defense as they limited the Jags to 224 total yards and 3.7 yards per play. The South Alabama offense was straight up horrible in the first half as they had four three-and-outs and threw an interception in their own territory. Starting quarterback Cole Garvin really struggled, but everything changed when junior Dallas Davis took over behind center late in the second quarter.
After going three-and-out in his first possession in the second quarter, Davis and the Jags marched 64 yards in 11 plays for a score on their first drive in the second half. After not converting one third down conversion in the first 30 minutes, the Jags converted three third downs on the drive and the final one would come when Davis found Malik Stanley for a 14-yard score. This drive pretty much put the game on ice as South Alabama would dominate the time of possession 35:59-24:01 and the Trojans would only have five possessions in the second half to make up a two-to-three possession deficit.
As you may expect, turnovers were large in this contest as South Alabama scored 10 points off of takeaways. In the first quarter, Troy freshman Marcus Jones fumbled a punt return around midfield and the Jags would recover. Cole Garvin would then hit Tra Minter for 37 yards on a halfback screen to acquire a first and goal. A couple plays later, Xavier Johnson would leap in from one yard out.
Late in the third quarter, Jones would fumble on another punt return and the Jags would hop on the football. Facing a third and 14 at the Troy 37, Dallas Davis would scamper for seven yards to give the Jags a shot at a field goal. Kicker Gavin Patterson would need each of those yards as his 47-yard field goal barely got over the crossbar.
These 10 points off the turnovers were the difference and were the single biggest reason why South Alabama pulled off the monster upset.
There is no way to understate it, this was a monster victory for Joey Jones. The South Alabama administration has yet to extend the ninth year head coach but after a 1-4 start this was much needed.
The South Alabama offense still has a ton of issues and that was multiplied by losing star running back Xavier Johnson in the first half due to injury. However, Dallas Davis gave the Jags their best quarterback play of the season and he should be the starter when ULM rolls into Mobile next weekend. This defense has so much potential and defensive coordinator Kane Wommack did a fantastic job in shutting down the Troy attack.
After a week of hype, the Troy football program came crashing down to earth on Wednesday night. Per head coach Neal Brown, this was “probably the most disappointing loss I’ve been a part of” and “our guys were not prepared tonight and that is one me”. This is just a gut punch.
The loss will likely cost Troy an undisputed conference crown as Appalachian State has a fairly easy conference schedule to end the season. It is shocking that Brandon Silvers has only thrown for two touchdowns in six games and the lack of explosive plays is really holding the offense back.
The defense continues to lead the way for the Trojans and they will be the favorite in every game on their schedule until they head to Jonesboro to close out the season. This may be just the wake up call this team needs to play to their potential.