In what was the first of three Conference USA-Sun Belt matchups this bowl season, the Fun Belt got off to a fast start.
Without multiple wide receivers and leading rusher Jordan Chunn, the Trojans somehow managed to put up 50 points against North Texas. In his last game as a Trojan, Brandon Silvers passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns as the Trojans outscored the Mean Green 21-10 in the second half.
For the day, the Troy offense had their best performance of the season as they accumulated 435 total yards. Replacing Chunn, senior tailback Josh Anderson had the first triple-digit effort of his career as the big back collected 113 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. With multiple players out, junior Damion Willis had a huge day as the top target for Silvers. The junior college transfer had 135 yards on 11 grabs with two touchdowns. This was the best this Air Raid offense has looked all season.
For the first time this season, this Troy defense allowed 30 points but this one wasn’t as close as the final score made it seem. The red zone domination continued as Troy collected multiple stops as well as putting relentless pressure on Mason Fine. The diminutive sophomore took plenty of monster hits as the Trojans recorded six sacks and forced five turnovers. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning did one outstanding job with this group in 2017.
The Mean Green were able to consistently move the ball through the air against this Troy back seven as Fine had 303 passing yards. However, it took 56 attempts to get there. As expected, it was rough sledding for this ground game with senior Jeffery Wilson out of the lineup. For the day, this group posted negative-eight rushing yards on 25 carries as Troy defenders were in the backfield all day.
For the sixth time this season, this North Texas defense allowed at least 40 points. This group did not do much of anything as Troy consistently moved the chains. The highlight for this group came in the second quarter with Troy in the red zone. A high snap would be recovered by Colton McDonald and returned for a 56-yard score. If that doesn’t happen, there is no telling how ugly this ballgame would’ve gotten.
It was an absolutely outstanding season for this Troy program as they recored their first 11-win season since joining the FBS, beat LSU on the road, won a conference title, and picked up a huge bowl win. In the last two seasons, Troy is 21-5 and Neal Brown will be returning for a fourth season. The future is bright but there are some significant seniors that must be replaced.
It was a bad end of the season for this North Texas program, but the rebuild is ahead of schedule for second-year head coach Seth Littrell. The defense is a huge worry moving forward, but there is some legit young star power on this offense. Mason Fine figures to be one of best quarterbacks in all of the Group of Five next year. There are three stud receivers returning in Rico Bussey, Jr., Jalen Guyton, and Michael Lawerence. Add in an intriguing Nic Smith at running back and the future is bright in Denton.
The bowl season is off to a fast start for the Sun Belt as they aim to prove that C-USA is in fact the worst FBS conference and not the Fun Belt.