Our weekly look at MSU’s 2013 football schedule continues today with the second non-conference game of the season. This Troy team gave State fits last year, piling up 572 yards of offense and nearly pulling off the upset in front of a home crowd. That wound up being the Trojans’ fourth-highest single-game yardage total of the season.
Troy Trojans (Sept. 21, in Starkville)
• Conference: Sun Belt
• 2012 record: 5-7 (3-5, sixth in SBC)
• Final ranking: Not ranked
• Coach: Larry Blakeney (169-98-1, 22 seasons)
• Returning starters: 9 (3 offense, 4 defense, 2 specialists)
• Last meeting: MSU, 30-24 (Sept. 15, 2012, in Troy)
• On the Web: TroyTrojans.com
On the season, Troy averaged 498.8 yards per game. The man who led that attack most of the time, senior Corey Robinson, is back at quarterback. He passed for 3,121 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he’s the NCAA’s active passing leader. He shared snaps with Deon Anthony, who’s also back. He passed for 856 yards and nine TDs and also has the ability to run, having gained 390 yards on the ground, second-best on the team. They should split time again this year, although you might see Anthony take some handoffs or even catch some passes.
That’s according to Wes Johnson, who covers the team for the Troy Messenger and gave me some good insight on the Trojans. What he’s seen the last two years is unusual: Back-to-back losing seasons, the first time that’s happened during Blakeney’s lengthy tenure. The schedule this year is a tough one, with three consecutive road games early in the season against Arkansas State, MSU and Duke. Troy also plays at Ole Miss late in the season.
The offense is expected to be high-octane once again, although Blakeney must replace 1,000-yard rusher Shawn Southward, who led the team in rushing each of his four years there. Sophomore Daron White, who had just eight carries for 11 yards last year, is the de facto No. 1 back right now but will have competition from sophomore Brandon Burks and redshirt freshman Michael Lindsey.
Experience returns at receiver in the forms of senior Eric Thomas and junior B.J. Chitty. Not so much experience on the offensive line, which has also been beset by some injuries. As Johnson noted, the center is a crucial part of Troy’s offense, because, “He controls the tempo, he controls the snap count. He’s the one who calls out the offensive line assignments and points out the blitz and things of that nature. He’s the guy who really runs the show. They’re going to have to find that guy.”
He said right now, senior Evan McKissack (5-foot-10, 255 pounds) is the man at center.
Defensively, Troy is looking to create a better pass rush. It had just 13 sacks last season, and the Trojans are hoping sophomore defensive end Tyler Roberts (6-1, 215) can make a difference in that department. He was a hybrid linebacker last year and started all 12 games. A new defensive coordinator, Wayne Bolt, is going to have Roberts work out of a three-point stance.
“He can disrupt the running game,” Johnson said. “He’s athletic enough to really hold his own at defensive end. He’s going to be a game-changer for Troy if he can progress like he did last year.”
Bolt’s greater challenge is to fix a defense that ranked 96th in the country in total defense (443.6 ypg), 100th in pass efficiency defense (146.56 rating), and 82nd against the run (185.2 ypg).
For more on Troy, listen to my interview with Johnson.
Next up: LSU