It was an exciting week in the Belt as we had some excellent conference match-ups to go along with some interesting non-conference clashes. The league fell short in each of their non-conference tests, but we’re starting to find out who are the contenders and pretenders.
New Mexico State isn’t ready to crack the top tier
It was a huge opportunity for the NMSU program as they were coming off superb road performances against Arizona State and rival New Mexico and were welcoming Troy into Aggie Memorial Stadium under the lights. We were going to find out if the Aggies were ready to contend for a Sun Belt title this season.
They’re not quite there yet.
Troy jumped out to a quick 13-3 lead in the first quarter and really never looked back. NMSU pulled within one possession twice in the second half but was outplayed by Neal Brown’s club for the majority of the game.
The Trojans had more first downs, a 183-51 rushing yards advantage, and came away victorious in the total yardage battle 469-382. Brandon Silvers played his best game of the year for the Trojans as the senior completed nearly 62% of his passes for 286 yards and zero turnovers. Troy was able to establish the run as senior Jordan Chunn led the way with 87 yards. Receivers Deondre Douglas and Emanuel Thompson finally looked like the players we remembered from 2016.
Tyler Rogers continued his excellent play in 2017 as he completed 71% of his passes for 331 yards and three scores. He is currently the clubhouse leader for the Sun Belt Player of the Year honors. However, no running game really did the Aggies in and the defense was shredded all night by Troy’s Air Raid scheme. The Aggies are not out of the hunt yet, but they have a tricky league schedule with games against Appalachian State and Arkansas State still remaining on the schedule.
ULM still has defensive issues
It was a huge spot for Matt Viator’s program as they were hosting Southern Miss for an evening kickoff at Malone Stadium. It was a chance for the Warhawks to pick up a huge home win and to create some momentum as they get into conference play starting in week four. The offense flashed signs in the opener against Memphis, but there were still questions about their defense.
Well, defensive coordinator Mike Collins has some issues to figure out still in 2017 after having one of the worst defenses in the FBS last fall. In a huge game, Southern Miss collected nearly 300 yards rushing as they ran 70 plays and won the time of possession battle in the 28-17 victory.
In two games, ULM is allowing nearly seven yards per carry and are giving up 6.6 yards per play. That is just not going to cut it. When considering the ULM offense is going to be built on the running game and they will need to win the time of possession battle in order to win football games. The defense has to get better and to do that forcing turnovers will be needed.
ULM has only forced two turnovers on the season and is currently down five in the turnover margin. This has to get improve if ULM is going to do some damage in the Sun Belt. Somehow, someway this defense must get stops.
C-USA has the upper hand
Highlighting the week were two significant non-conference match-ups with the C-USA. These were opportunities to prove that the Sun Belt was not the worst conference in the FBS and that their champion would have a significant argument to be considered for the Group of Five bid.
Those results were not great for the league as ULM dropped a home contest to Southern Miss and Coastal Carolina fell to UAB by a touchdown on the road. In both games, each Sun Belt school found themselves in a hole early on and just could not do enough to climb out of it. As of right now, the conference is 1-16 against the other Group of Five leagues (only win was New Mexico State over New Mexico). That is not a good sign for a conference that is trying to climb out of the gutter.
But there are some chances for some big wins in week four as there are match-ups with the ACC, American, C-USA, and MAC