In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college football, celebrating what just happened takes a backseat to what’s ahead.
What just happened for the Troy defense is the Trojans held an explosive Marshall offense to more than 330 yards under their season average of 507 yards per game. What’s ahead is probably a bigger challenge, perhaps a much bigger challenge than what Troy faced last week in a 16-7 victory over the Thundering Herd.
Waiting on the Trojans this week is a Western Kentucky offense that is sixth in the country in points per game (47.5) and 11th in the country in total yards per game (508.8) and passing yards per game (340).
“It gives us a boost this week, knowing we held a top offense to under 200 yards,” said Troy cornerback Reddy Steward. “We’re just hungry to do that this week. We know that Western Kentucky is a good team. They’re coached well, they have good offensive players, we’re just ready for the challenge to go against top guys like that.”
Western Kentucky quarterback Austin Reed is 105-of-143 for 1,263 yards with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions in four games. His 315.8 yards passing per game is eighth best in the country. His top two receivers – Daewood Davis (22 catches for 354 yards, three touchdowns) and Malachi Corley (20 catches for 273 yards, five touchdowns) – are dynamic playmakers. Seven of the eight receivers with three catches or more are averaging in double digits in yards per reception.
What makes the passing game harder to stop is the Hilltoppers also mixed in the run with success. Western Kentucky averages 168.5 yards per game on the ground.
“Really impressed with them personnel-wise and also impressed with how they run the offense,” said Troy head coach Jon Sumrall. “Tyson Helton, the head coach, is an offensive guy. They challenge you, very similar, structurally, to what we saw from Ole Miss. Huge challenge for our defensive guys this week.”
Western Kentucky is not identical to Ole Miss, schematically, but the teams are similar enough that the experience of playing the Rebels is an advantage for the Troy defenders. In that season-opening game, Ole Miss had 266 yards rushing and 167 passing yards in a 28-10 victory. The 433 total yards is 55 yards short of what the Rebels average a game after four games.
“They are RPO (run-pass option) and have the ability to run it or throw it on a lot of those plays, based on alignment of the defense or matchups or whatever they’re trying to attack,” said Troy defensive coordinator Shiel Wood. “They have the ability to go tempo and go fast at times. Marshall didn’t do that much, like Ole Miss did. This team, I think will be similar to Ole Miss from a tempo standpoint. They try to take advantage of the width of the field and make you kind of declare on some of those RPOs. They’re looking to take advantage of numbers. They do a great job of taking advantage of the quick passing game. They have some really good concepts that I think are simple for their players, to play fast. It will be a good challenge for us this week.”
Last week, the Trojans limited Marshall to 96 rushing yards and 78 passing yards. The Trojans had seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss. The Herd’s total yardage in each of the first three games were 612 yards against Norfolk State, 364 yards in a win at then-No. 8 Notre Dame and 547 yards in an overtime loss at Bowling Green.
Marshall had no answer against the Troy defense.
“I think our defensive staff did a great job of just coming up with a solid game plan, that we felt like would play to our strengths,” Wood said. “We wanted to try to be simple. We’re trying to settle in, week to week, to what we really are defensively, what we want to be. Early in the season, that’s been kind of a work in progress, as we just kind of get a feel (for) growing together in this scheme and this staff with our players. I think we did a nice job of maybe disguising what we were doing and just give them different looks, maybe taking away some of the easy pre-snap looks at times.”
It also helped that linebacker Carlton Martial, the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week, came up with 18 tackles. Defensive end T.J. Jackson added seven tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
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