Jon Sumrall's first game as a college football head coach is on the road against a top 25-ranked team with one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the nation.
"No easing into the 2022 season," Sumrall, the first-year Troy head coach, said on Monday during his press conference previewing the Trojans' trip to face 21st-ranked Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon.
Sumrall isn't complaining. In fact, he's looking forward to seeing how his team reacts to adverse situations in front of an SEC crowd.
"You want to play great teams in great environments," Sumrall said.
He also acknowledges this is a results-related business and says he's a results-related coach.
"Don't get it confused, now. We want to earn a win, too," Sumrall said. "Don't slip on that part. We still want to win the game. I want to win every time we play. I don't care who we play. But I do think our goal here is to become the premier Group of Five team in college football. We're not going to hide from that. Our goal is to win conference championships. What better way to figure out where you are as a starting point than playing someone like Ole Miss?"
Sumrall officially announced on Monday that Gunnar Watson will retain his starting role at quarterback. Recent transfer Jarrett Doege and January transfer Peter Costelli are co-backups. That was important news, but a bigger focus might be on what happens on the other side of the ball on Saturday.
Troy's defense is one of the best groups, if not the best, in the Sun Belt Conference. The Ole Miss offense, however, offers a unique challenge under head coach Lane Kiffin and co-offensive coordinators Charlie Weis Jr. and John David Baker. Kiffin has different coordinators and different personnel from last year's offense, which was sixth in the country in total yards per game. However, it's hard to expect a step backward with Kiffin as the team's head coach.
"They stress you by how fast they play the game," said Sumrall, who was the Ole Miss linebacker coach under Matt Luke in 2018. "They do a really good job by play design. There's no secret that Lane is a really good play caller. He has been for a long time. I think he's adapted and done a lot of different things in his career schematically. He puts you in some situations that are challenging and puts you in a bind schematically."
The skill players are different than a year ago. It begins at quarterback, where sophomore Luke Altmyer and USC transfer Jaxson Dart are sharing the position. Altmyer played in five games last year as the backup to Matt Corral. He replaced an injured Corral in the Sugar Bowl loss to Baylor and threw for 174 yards with a touchdown. Dart played in six games with three starts as a true freshman at USC. He threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns against Washington State, 325 yards and a touchdown against UCLA and had at least one touchdown in five of the six games he played.
Preparing for both hasn't been easy.
"We've looked at film with what we could find on both of them," said Troy defensive coordinator Shiel Wood. "They're going to work within the confines of what they do offensively. They'll play, I'm sure, to the strengths of the individual that's behind center. [We're] just trying to get a feel of what they do well. I think both these guys throw the football pretty well. They're both really capable runners as well."
That's just the start of an offense filled with playmakers, according to Sumrall.
"Even though they lost a lot, they might be more talented with this year's team," Sumrall said. "All the things they do on that side of the ball, for a defensive coach, presents a lot of issues for you. They've been the best in the country at creating explosive plays. They don't have a problem moving the ball on anybody they play."
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