Troy joined the Sun Belt conference in 2004 and would have immediate success under head coach Larry Blakeney as the Trojans won a conference title in each season from 2006 until 2010. That’s five straight years for those of you counting at home as the Trojans became the powerhouse program in the Sun Belt.
Then in 2011, under head coach Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State ran the table in the Sun Belt to pick up their first league title since 2005. From there, the Red Wolves would go on to win five conference titles in six seasons and they did it under four different head coaches.
It was new versus old on Saturday night in Jonesboro and this time the old guard somehow pulled out a road victory.
Behind some stingy red zone defense and timely passes from Brandon Silvers, Troy went on the road to knock off Arkansas State by a scored of 32-25. After blowing an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Brandon Silvers would lead the Trojans on a nine-play drive that covered 72 yards in in little over a minute as the Trojans would take the lead for good with 17 seconds for the remaining.
For the night, Silvers would finish 23 of 41 with 246 passing yards with two scores and zero interceptions. Deondre Douglas was the top target as he had seven receptions for 74 yards including the game-winning touchdown on a corner route. The ground game, however, was non-existent for Troy as the Trojans only posted 47 rushing yards on 24 carries.
For most of the season, this Troy defense had to led the way for this ballclub as the offense has dealt with inconsistency nearly the entire year. For the first time of the season, Troy gave up more than 24 points but it could have been a lot worse.
Arkansas State had success moving the ball against this Troy defense as they accumulated over 600 yards of total offense as Justice Hansen led the way with 437 passing yards. However, in the red zone is where the game was won.
For the night, Blake Anderson’s offense had eight red zone possessions and only came away with two touchdowns. Twice Justice Hansen was intercepted in the red zone and the back breaker occurred in the fourth quarter when Marcus Jones recorded a pick-six to give the Trojans a double-digit lead. Add in two missed field goals and it was a nightmarish night for the Sun Belt’s top offense.
The contributions from Marcus Jones did not stop there, however. In the first half, the true freshman recorded his school record third kickoff return touchdown on the season to give the Trojans an early 7-3 lead. The rookie is going to be a superstar.
For Arkansas State, it was the third game of the season where they recorded over 400 passing yards and it was again due to a balanced attack by the wideouts. Tight end Blake Mack led the way with six receptions for 104 yards. Justin McInnis and Chris Murray both had over 70 yards receiving as this remains one of the most lethal passing attacks in the FBS.
This is going to be the one that got away for the Red Wolves as they lost the conference title and a likely New Orleans Bowl bid. For the game, the Red Wolves won many of the statistical battles. Arkansas State led first downs 32-14, total yards 606-293, rushing yards 169-47, and time of possession. But finishing drives is so important and they left a ton of points on the Centennial Bank Stadium turf. Add in some solid special teams play and converting off of turnovers and you have Troy bringing home a conference crown.
It’s now back-to-back double-digit win seasons for this Troy program as Neal Brown is a rising star in the coaching field. Now the Trojans will be heading to the New Orleans Bowl and with a likely matchup with North Texas. It was an excellent season that included a win over LSU and Saturday’s victory over Arkansas State put an exclamation point on it.