Monday, October 31, 2011

Tuesday links/offense chatter

Main story about Troy staying optimistic - HERE
Notes, leading with Tony Davis' touchdown vs. FIU - HERE

From over in Navy, some developments. Go HERE and you find out that starting QB Kriss Proctor practiced after missing nearly 2 games with a dislocated elbow. Navy is getting back slotback Aaron Santiago (broken arm) - Navy was 2-0 with Santiago, 0-6 without him, but Navy also lost senior receiver Doug Furman with torn knee ligaments. Yep, Navy hasn't been fortunate catching breaks this year, either.

HERE is commentary about Navy possibly losing its swagger.

Back to Troy's offense. I asked quarterback Corey Robinson if defenses are showing Troy different things this year than last (of course they are, but I wanted to have him describe it)

"They are, but we knew that going in," Robinson said. "We have to be able to utilize it. We had to completely change our offense to where it’s not a big hit offense like we were, but just moving the chains. We’re not doing that right now. We’re only going to touch the ball about six times on Saturday, so we need to take advantage every time we get it."

What are they doing different? "This year they’re dropping eight people," Robinson said. "Obviously everybody knows when defense drops eight people, what do you need to do? Run the football every now and then. We’re doing a fine job of that, but misfortunate things are happening to us at the wrong time. That’s really about all I can tell you."

Offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield on Navy's defense giving up some pass yards: "I think what Navy does is they know they're going to give you fewer possessions," Edenfield said. "What they do is they keep the ball in front of them a lot. You have to be smart, you have to move the chains, but they're not going to give you a lot of big plays down the field. They're going to make you earn your way down the field, hoping that you'll make a mistake before you get down there.

"What we have to do is create some big plays, make some guys miss, make a big run or break a tackle at the line of scrimmage, break a linebacker's tackle, make some big runs so we can have some success. Whenever we've gotten a big play in a drive, if you look back over the last three games, we end up taking the ball right down. It's like we gain a lot of confidence. We have to work hard on doing that, finishing our runs, finishing our catches, really trying to finish everything we do."

Edenfield also mentioned the play of the freshmen on the offensive line. Scroll down a blog post and it has the grades. Zach Johnson at right guard graded at 78, and Terrence Jones at right tackle graded 70. Both are going to be really good before they leave. Both have played really well so far this year. Johnson graded 88 against ULM in his first start. Jones has graded much higher against two of the top teams in the country. But with youth, you get inconsistency, like last week's game. Jones gave up two sacks to FIU defensive end Tourek Williams. Johnson admitted on one of those sacks, he missed out on some help that allowed Williams to get to Robinson.

"I think Terrence has done well," Edenfield said. "That guy was on the right side, when that guy was against James (Brown), he didn't do nothing. When he went to the other side against a redshirt freshman, he was able to get a couple of pressures or sacks. Really, Terrence did a good job on him most of the night. It was like anything else. Terrence probably played, I guess, 75 snaps and had two that people noticed. You don't notice all the good plays he did where you don't even seen that guy getting in there. People don't notice that. They just notice the bad.

"Just like quarterback. You don't notice all the good throws he makes. You just notice the bad ones. It's kind of like coaching. They don't understand the good plays when you hit a big one. They only notice the ones you call that don't work. It kind of comes with the profession."

***Radio note: I'll be on with John and Barry at 9:30 a.m. CST on 740 AM out of Montgomery. You can listen online HERE

Monday afternoon blog post

Wanted to get some notes up before I left Troy.

***Troy's Homecoming game against North Texas on Nov. 12 has been moved from 2:30 p.m. to NOON for Sun Belt Television. I'm all for noon kickoffs, but that's going to screw up a lot of activities for that day. If the school is mad at the conference for doing this, they have a case.

***Figured I'd just share some quotes on some stuff.

Larry Blakeney - Can the offense get back on track? I hope we get back on track offensively. If we could get Jason Bruce and TeBiarus Gill and Jerrel Jernigan and those 2 guys we lost to eligibility, it’d be a lot better. We’re trying to do it with guys – Eric Thomas, Corey Johnson, Justin Albert and little Chandler Worthy and that flanker (I think he's talking about Stanley Arukwe).

"There’s chemistry that’s evolutionary for quarterbacks and receivers. That hasn’t necessarily totally happened yet. They worked this summer together. Why hasn’t it happened? Some of the sacks that Corey’s had to endure has to do with totally not being in sync with those guys.
Regardless of what you want to say about it, we have not produced as many big plays as we produced with those other cats. Somebody needs to be producing big plays for us to be successful. We’re not going to line up and mash. We’re trying to line up and hopefully get a little bit of this down here (in the pass) to open up the run game."

"It’s on everybody. It’s on me. It’s on coaches, it’s on the quarterback, it’s on the line, it’s on receivers. It’s not on any one guy. It’s divided up."

In the TV press room, one of the guys asked Blakeney what he said to Michael Taylor after the field goal misses: You can check out some audio recorded by Barry McKnight HERE.

Leaders: Blakeney mentioned defensive tackle Tony Davis, left tackle James Brown, quarterback Jamie Hampton as vocal leaders on the football team. He had some big respect for how running back Shawn Southward carries himself, but said Southward isn't a huge vocal guy.


On the short punt that FIU's T.Y. Hilton returned to set up FIU's game-tying field goal: "I wish we hadn’t punted to T.Y. We got hit in the back two times on the side we ran to. No call. That’s called humans. That’s called football. I wish he had kicked it to me instead of 2.9 hang time to T.Y. I can’t talk about refereeing."

"Tony Davis is about as good a leader as we’ve got on this football team. He’s a good guy," Blakeney said. "I think James has got to be our leader on the offensive side. He and Jamie, Jamie’s sort of in a peculiar situation because he’s not the starter. They all respect and know he loves them and he’d do anything for the team, but he’s the other guy that could give you something to hang on to.

"From where I sit and watch, Shawn Southward is a guy I respect by just watching him and how he plays, but he’s not very vocal. He doesn’t say much. He does, but he doesn’t talk. And there’s guys that talk too (dang) much that don’t play. If you’re going to lead a football team, you better be doing what you’re supposed to do first, and then it’ll all grow into you and you can lead. Before that point, all that superfluous (stuff) doesn’t mean anything to any of us except that you’re a (bull stuff)er

Player quotes
Corey Robinson had a good line for people who might be giving up on this team.

"The season’s not over for us, maybe for people that follow, but not us at all," Robinson said. "We’re trying to just get out there right now and get a win. We’re thinking 7-5 and hopefully trying to get to a bowl game.

Freshman right guard Zach Johnson also had some good stuff.

"People are so quick to blame it on coaches and all this other stuff," Johnson said. "We’re starting to get back on track. I really don’t know – I just think that we need to be playing more physical. I can’t speak for everybody but can speak for the offensive line. Our knockdowns were up and we had a shot to win the game. Something Coach Schlarman preaches to us is getting the knockdowns and if we do that, we have a better chance to win.

"I think this week against Navy, we’ll have a good shot to get knockdowns. They’re definitely a team that will give maximum effort on every play and we’ll have to give maximum effort on every play. If not, it’ll be an easy win (for them)

"There’s no way around it. We’ve just got to play."

OFFENSIVE LINE GRADES
Here they are for the FIU game
.
LT James Brown - 92
LG Kyle Wilborn - 93 (pretty good for a guy with a messed up shoulder and knee)
C Zach Swindall - 81
RG Zach Johnson - 78
RG Terrence Jones - 70

Will have more on that in a future blog post.

Troy gets OL commitment

Troy got a commitment Monday from Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa offensive lineman Luke Lawrence.

Lawrence was offered by Troy about a month ago and pulled the trigger on Monday.

"I felt like it was the right time to commit," Lawrence said. "The football program is really good and so is the academic side. It's close to home and I felt it was good for me to go there."

Lawrence is 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds. He plays left tackle for Hillcrest, which is 10-0 in Class 6A football, but he'll play on the interior line when he gets to Troy.

He was being shown recruiting interest by Auburn, UAB, Samford, The Citadel, Murray State, Southeastern Louisiana and also had an offer from the U.S. Naval Academy - Troy's Saturday opponent.

He was recruited to Troy by defensive ends coach Randy Butler.

"I really like the coaching staff, and I really see that they know what they're doing," Lawrence said. "I felt like Troy was the best place for me to go."

**** (Star count is the highest rated I could find the commitment listed on all of the recruiting sites - rivals, scout, ESPN, 247sports.com)

HIGH SCHOOL
**Brandon Burks (RB, Daleville, Ala.)
**Cody Core (WR, Auburn, Ala.)
***Bobby Walker (WR, Fruit Cove, Fla.)
***Brandon Brooks (WR, Jacksonville, Fla.)
Michael Lindsey (WR, Elba, Ala.)
Antonio Garcia (OL, Riverdale, Ga.)
**Luke Lawrence (OL, Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Mitchell Roland (LB, Auburn, Ala.)
***Shaquille Beverly (DB, Jacksonville, Fla.)
JaQuadrian Lewis (DB, Fitzgerald, Ga.)
JUNIOR COLLEGE
Chris Hawkins (OL, Hutchinson, Kan. CC)
**Brandon Timmons (DE, Northwest Miss. CC)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday notes: When was rock bottom?

Seems like most college football teams have played 9 games already. Troy has played just 7.

It's going to be interesting to see how Troy bounces back in these last five games. Despite the recent struggles, all 5 are winnable (and all 5 are losable except FAU).

But as we get into this week, I wonder. When did rock bottom hit?

Performance-wise, it was definitely against UL-Monroe, which has proven to be an average at best team. Troy was awful against ULM all-around, but played much better against a more talented FIU team on the road. The problem was the way the Trojans lost that game, one it could have won. If rock bottom is now, it's going to be tough to climb out and get to perhaps 6-6 or 7-5. If it was against ULM, from a mental standpoint, then it's reasonable to expect better on-field performances as a young group gets more experience.

From a performance standpoint, I just don't see how Troy can play worse than it did against ULM. On an emotional note, it's going to be tough to bounce back from the way the game ended at FIU.

This week's opponent, Navy, is 2-6. The Midshipmen have lost four straight, and the good news for Troy's offense is that it can't stop the pass. Let's look at some recent pass numbers against Navy

Oct. 29 vs. Notre Dame: QBs went 19-of-25 (1 INT) for 260 yards in a 56-14 win
Oct. 22 vs. East Carolina: QB went 40-of-45 for 372 yards in 38-35 win
Oct. 15 vs. Rutgers: QB went 23-of-31 with 2 INTs for 271 yards in 21-20 win
Oct. 8 vs. Southern Miss: QB went 22-of-25 for 301 yards, 4 TDs in 63-35 win
Oct. 1 vs. Air Force: QB went 9-of-10 for 136 yards in 35-34 win
Sept. 17 vs. South Carolina: QB went 17-of-25 in 24-21 win

The East Carolina game really sticks out. It's clear the Midshipmen can move the ball a bit with the triple-option offense, but this is a game where the Troy aerial attack can get on track.

Navy was without starting QB Kriss Proctor for most of the ECU game and against Notre Dame. He suffered a dislocated left (Throwing) elbow against ECU. This is Navy's last home game, so I'd expect that Proctor, who is also Navy's top rusher, to play.

Injury update: We'll find out more on Monday about some guys that may have gotten hurt against FIU. I do know that cornerback Bryan Willis missed the last part of the game with a hamstring injury, so I'd guess he'll be questionable. Defensive tackle Tony Davis and safety Brynden Trawick were not in on the last couple of possessions, but I get the feeling they'll be back.

Cornerback Jimmie Anderson (appendix) returned to practice on Sunday.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Baseball notes/Troy mourns passing of Terry Collins

Troy graduate, former Dothan High baseball coach and avid Trojan baseball supporter Terry Collins died this morning at the age of 56 after complications from Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), a fatal diagnosis where your motor skills just deteriorate and there's nothing you can do about it.

Collins was the president and co-founder of ScreenTech in Dothan.

The story in the Friday paper is HERE.

When I first started covering Troy in 2005, Terry and his brother Shannon Collins were two of the first people I met, since the ScreenTech Wiregrass Classic in Dothan was going on during the first month I was there. Both men became friends to me instantly and helped me out any time I ever needed it.

I wrote THIS STORY on July 15, 2010. I may be wrong, but I think that was the last time I talked to Terry, in his office at ScreenTech. He went to work as long as he could, but for the past year, just got progressively worse.

The first story I wrote on Collins' diagnosis was when he and Shannon were inducted into the Troy baseball Hall of Fame. You can read it HERE.

Earlier that year, Jon Johnson wrote THIS STORY when Collins had the fieldhouse at Dothan named for him.

Troy head baseball coach Bobby Pierce will give a eulogy at the Saturday afternoon funeral.

-------------------------------------------

Some other baseball notes.

Troy has scrimmages through Sunday, then next Fri-Sun, the seniors will draft teams for their own intrasquad World Series. I'll have more of a report next week on how fall went, but some injury notes.

***Junior LHP Shane McCain had labrum surgery; he is out for 2012 and can redshirt.

***Junior LHP Ryan Sorce had Tommy John surgery; he is out for 2012 but used a redshirt in JUCO in 2010.

***Sophomore 1B/DH/RHP Kyle Brown has a hip problem where he could play through pain, but surgery may ultimately be the answer and that would likely put him out for 2012.

***Freshman catcher Jake Harrell (hand) and sophomore outfielder Hayden Hillyer (hand) missed fall with injuries that required surgery. There's optimism that they'll be ready for spring, but we'll see.

***Senior shortstop Tyler Hannah missed the last few weeks with a leg strain, but he'll be fine.

***Sophomore outfielder Ali Knowles had summer surgery to repair bone spurs in his left elbow. He hit some, but didn't throw.

***Senior catcher/DH/1B Blake Martz had a minor meniscus surgery, but he'll be fine.

***Good news, as RHP Drew Hull got his fifth year approved from the NCAA. He had Tommy John surgery last year and ended up getting a medical redshirt after pitching 7 games. However, Pierce said he wouldn't even be medically cleared to throw until sometime in February, so he probably won't even pitch in a game until at least midseason.

Some football thoughts


Sun setting on Troy's season? A shot before the game Tuesday night


I spent the first part of yesterday just looking around Fort Lauderdale and then in the airports/traveling and then asleep, so didn't get a blog post up.

FIU beat writer David J. Neal summed it up pretty well in THIS BLOG POST - most of it is about FIU, obviously, but a lot is how they were able to win the game.

FIU's lines, on both sides, are bigger and stronger than Troy's as a collective unit. That seems to be the case around the league so far. Some of it has to do with injuries. Some of it has to do with youth and not having the years in the weight room.

Take for instance right tackle Terrence Jones - a guy who has a chance to develop into a pretty good OL with the experience he's getting - but he got blown up by FIU defensive end Tourek Williams for 2 damaging sacks - once when Troy had 1st and 10 at FIU's 16. Troy couldn't even get a field goal out of that drive.

Jones and Zach Johnson at right guard have a chance to be pretty good, but you really don't want to have two freshmen starting right next to each other on the line. From a strength standpoint, it's not an ideal situation. Give them another offseason and another spring and they'll be even better next year. For all I know they could have graded out well against FIU - but the point still stands.

On the OL, left guard Kyle Wilborn - already with 5 surgeries in his past - is headed for another one after the season as he's got another bum shoulder. He's also battling a knee issue. But him with those issues, coaches feel, is much better than the alternatives for a long-term deal. Jacob Creech is already out for the year with a knee injury. Those two guys were close to 100% vs. Clemson and Arkansas, and the offense was much better at that point.

The injury-ridden/youth-filled OL leads to other parts not working as well, though the fact that this year's WR group doesn't have the explosive parts of years past is equally something to look at. Corey Robinson (also with a bum throwing shoulder that still has me thinking it's bothering him because he threw the deep ball more last year & looked better doing it) has to scramble a lot more because pressure breaks down and for probably several reasons, he isn't looking like the QB he did last year even though coaches raved about his improvement in the fall camp. Coaches can't really call plays that allow the receivers to run deep (for one, because the receivers aren't able to get separation like the past few groups have, for 2, because there's not enough time), so you have to work with what you've got. Right now, it's a bit of frustration all around, it seems.

James Brown is likely an NFL player, probably at a guard. Troy had success running to the left side when it did run the ball, and not so much to the right side. Shawn Southward and D.J. Taylor look like they're having more success than Chris Anderson. Anderson is probably one of the fastest guys on the team, but the other 2 look more natural at the RB position. Anderson did practice at inside WR during the spring, and I wonder how Troy's offense would look if he had stuck there.

Larry Blakeney mentioned about losing the two receivers to academics (Johnson & Reeves) - I can also guarantee that if both hadn't been ineligible, this offense would look a lot better. Maybe they'll be back next year.

Defensively, again FIU was able to pound the yardage because of the OL overpowering the DL. Now, on pass rushes, the defensive ends were able to get in the backfield, but the line didn't have success against the run and FIU seemed like it could get 4-5 yards a pop when it wanted.

Credit the defense for only giving up 2 touchdowns and forcing 4 turnovers. Two young corners, Ethan Davis and especially Dimetri Miles (a walk-on) look like they can play a bit, but they're young and Davis has missed time with a knee injury.

But they certainly gave up the yards - though most of that comes because of a very strong OL. On the only 2 TDs, it looked like FIU was able to get one WR lined up with Troy LB Brannon Bryan. Bryan is a solid player but he's not going to win that race. That's not something that just happens against Troy. Don't you remember a guy named Jernigan finding his way into some mismatches across the middle? On the second one, it looked like a coverage bust, as a receiver got past cornerback Chris Pickett and a safety being nowhere near. I'm not sure if that was a CB or a S issue, but it wasn't a deal where a coach told them to be there and not there - it was a coverage bust.

Late in the game, Tony Davis (cramps, I think - he needed an IV after the game) and Brynden Trawick (not really sure the injury but I think minor) were not in the game. Those are two starters.

Yes, Michael Taylor missed an extra point and the field goal in overtime. Is he the goat? Hell no. It just gets glorified more because he's a kicker and everyone expects the kickers to make every kick. Had he made the first XP, when FIU had a fourth and 2 from about the 3, down 21-17 instead of 20-17, FIU would have gone for it instead of kicking the FG. Do they make it? Well, I probably like the chances. Sort of goes back to when Troy got the ball on the next drive with 3 minutes left to try to go down and win it. Did you have confidence that they'd get it done? Probably not, and that's what the difference is between this year and the last 5.

On both sides of the ball, I'm not smart enough to question schematics, and most of that goes over my head as I'm trying to do so much during the games (twitter, updating game stores & notes). The stuff that does stick out, I ask about, and hopefully that's the best way I can convey it to readers. I do know that these coaches work hard, the players practice hard, but this just isn't a very good team when you total up the nuts and bolts. There are still 5 games to go, so I suppose anything can happen.

Please do leave comments or questions I could have for coaches/players. Yes, you have to register, but we don't do the anonymous comments on here. That doesn't stop you from registering "JoeSmith" but it's better than "Anonymous." With a few days until Monday, I'm going to try to get basketball and baseball updates to fill the time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Some postgame quotes

Gonna have to put another blog post tomorrow, but here's what they said after the 23-20 loss to FIU. I do have a couple of other quotes in game stories and notebooks, which I'll link after driving an hour back to Fort Lauderdale.

WR Eric Thomas: "We should have done a better job of executing. When we had them down, we should have just stepped on it and punched it in."

HEAD COACH LARRY BLAKENEY on offensive struggles: “There’s some execution problems. There’s some physical personnel problems. There’s some youth. There’s a lot of youth if you want to know the truth. If you count them up, there’s not a whole lot of people (who have played for Troy before this year). We’ve got a quarterback and a couple of linemen. Our running backs have played. (Wideout Eric Thomas has) played some for us before

“The loss of two really great receivers (Jamel Johnson and Chip Reeves to academics) at our level hurts us. Losing (Jacob) Creech, a starter on the offensive line (knee injury).

“There’s some excuses. Ain’t nobody going to listen to those.”

OTHER QUOTES: We’ve got to score off a turnover and we had two or three other turnovers. They’re a good team. I’m not sure which way we’ll both go. I hope we can find a way to put the pieces together and somewhere get a win down the road, hopefully at Navy."

"A lot of these guys haven’t experienced anything. They’re playing college football
for the first time. You’ve got to give your opponent credit. They’re a little more physical up front, a little more physical in the defensive front, I thought. It’s something we’ve got to try to beat.

"I was proud of our kids for fighting and getting it to overtime. I just wish we could have won."

Live from Troy-FIU


Here's a couple of pictures. The BOTTOM photo is my view from the press box at the corner of the end zone. The other shot gives a better look at FIU's Stadium, but it's also right next to the tent where Barry and Jerry are broadcasting from. Normally, they're on the 50-yard line. So hopefully all the big plays will happen on that end of the field (except that I won't be able to see them well then!)

We're ready to start in 40 minutes on ESPN2. Only player news I know of is that Jimmie Anderson (appendix) is not here, but hopes to be and should be ready for Navy.

If there's any other lineup changes or injury reports, I guess we'll find out when the game starts.

GAMEDAY: Troy at FIU

Well, ESPN2 is in town for a must-win game for both Troy and FIU. The game is at 7 p.m. CST and I'll have plenty of twitter updates @dothaneagletroy and probably a short pregame blog.

You can read my game preview HERE.

HERE is a story from the Miami Herald on the game.

FIU can lose and still have an easier chance at a bowl, thanks to having the funds to schedule a cupcake non-conference schedule. A loss for Troy puts the Trojans with 5 losses and trips to Navy and Arkansas State looming.

Troy has a few things in its favor: The Trojans have never lost a regular-season game on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU; in fact, the Trojans play very well on those networks. The only losses Troy has ever had have been bowl games - Silicon Valley Classic, New Orleans Bowl (08) and GMAC Bowl (10) - and the last two bowls went into OT or 2OT.

Troy also has a few more off days to rest up and prepare, since FIU played and lost last Tuesday at Arkansas State.

Having said that, boy it's tough for me to predict a Troy win, though a gut feel makes me think they'll play much better than in the past two weeks. FIU has better talent at the skill positions, possibly a better and healthier offensive line and a senior quarterback who doesn't make too many mistakes. So I'll go with FIU 24, Troy 20. At least that means Troy covers a +6 for the degens out there.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday links, getting closer to south Florida

ORLANDO - Always wanted to put a dateline on a blog post. Never have, even when I update on the road.

Right now, I'm killing time in the Orlando airport, waiting for a flight to Fort Lauderdale. Don't plan on heading to Miami until Tuesday. But this trip and the one next week to Navy were the ones I was most looking forward to.

Troy backup quarterback Jamie Hampton is also looking forward to this game, despite leaving his last 2 ESPN2 Tuesday night games with serious injuries. He talks about that and his calmness/faith going into the game HERE.


***Player notes: Not expecting cornerback Jimmie Anderson to play at FIU, based on tweets but most of all getting the Troy game notes and seeing Anderson on the non-dress list. Anderson had his appendix removed before the UL-Monroe game. Looks like Chris Pickett and Bryan Willis will have to step up, and freshman Ethan Davis should be back in the rotation this week (knee).

***Zach Johnson is now officially listed as the starter at right guard, with Jimmie Arnold listed as the backup at both guard spots. Jacob Creech is out for the year with a knee injury.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

From the other side: FIU

Pete Pelegrin of FIUsports.com was kind enough to join us for a Q and A. Pete's blog is HERE at some point, there may be a Q and A with me on there. I made my prediction for it last Thursday and turned in the one for our paper on Wednesday, so a lot may have changed in terms of gut feelings. Or not.

You can follow Pete on twitter @PetePelegrin

1. So losses to ULL and Arkansas State aren’t embarrassing by any stretch, but FIU was picked first. What’s gone wrong for FIU to have the Panthers where they are in the conference at this point?

After getting off to the best start in the 9-year going on 10-year history of FIU football at 3-0, the Panthers have struggled some in the red zone scoring three instead of six when they get inside the opponent's 20. FIU is still running the ball well, but has not been able to punch it in for six when it's had the chance. The pass rush and the pass D of the Panthers has also been off a bit the last few games. Mobile quarterbacks such as UL's Blaine Gautier and ASU's Ryan Aplin have been tough for the FIU D both with the play action and their running abilities.

2. Is this a deflated team right now, or one that is still pretty confident in reaching a high win total.

I think the confidence is still there because outside of the fourth quarter of the ASU game, the Panthers have been in every game this season. One more score against Louisiana and Duke and FIU is 6-1 right now. At 4-3, FIU is in position to have the best season in the history of the program. Last year's team at 7-6 had the best record ever for an FIU team. And after what happened in the Sun Belt on Saturday with UL and ULM going down in upsets, the conference race is wide open. I don't believe ASU will run the table. The Red Wolves will have one or more stumbles before the season is over.

3. FIU's biggest strength is ...

FIU's biggest strength is its playmakers on both sides of the ball. Not only with the amount of team speed on both sides of the ball, but the talent level. It is just a matter of the Panthers executing. If FIU executes in the red zone on offense and plays the type of D this team is capable of playing then there is reason to believe the Panthers can win their last five games and finish 9-3 and 6-2 in the SBC.

4. FIU's biggest weakness is ...

The Panthers issues at this point are not finishing drives on offense/red zone. And on D, it is containing a mobile quarterback and the pass D not biting on play action and sticking to the receivers they are covering.

5. How do you see the game going?

I think Troy is a mystery. I don't think they are as bad as their record and I think some of the media writing off the Trojans is premature. Troy has always played FIU tough and this game will be no different. Like I said above, the Panthers have to score more TDs and not FGs. The defense has to be more disciplined defending a mobile quarterback and improve its pass coverage. Corey Robinson is one of the conference's top quarterbacks and I think the Trojans have some payback in mind for what FIU did to them last year. I think Tuesday's game will be this close and being back home will help the Panthers. FIU will win a tight game, 28-27.

The wild world of Sun Belt football

Just when you could pencil in a couple of Ws later on Troy's schedule, you see these results:

North Texas 38, UL-Monroe 21
Western Kentucky42, UL-Lafayette 23

Yep, wins by teams Troy has yet to face over teams that beat Troy convincingly. I guess it doesn't mean a whole lot if Troy doesn't improve, but it sure was interesting. Everyone thought ULL was going to coast to a Sun Belt title, but Western Kentucky, which has ULL's number just like ULM has Troy's number, took care of them. Then, North Texas moved the ball at will against a ULM defense that Troy did absolutely nothing with.

As of now, Arkansas State (3-0) is the only unbeaten team and I think the Red Wolves will cruise to the title. But having said that, they'll slip up and lose an upcoming game that you wouldn't think.

I'd say everyone has a shot, except FAU. Here you have the standings in league play: ULL (4-1), WKU (3-1), North Texas (2-2), ULM (1-2), Troy (1-2), FIU (1-2), Middle Tennessee (1-2), FAU (0-4).

***When I talked to Jeremy Rowell about FIU's offense, T.Y. Hilton wasn't mentioned much. Probably because everybody knows about him. Rowell was very impressed with FIU running back Kendrick Rhodes (who was NOT one of the 3 FIU players to top 100 yards against Troy last year) and wide receiver Wayne Times (who either didn't play or just didn't record a stat last year vs. Troy). You'll read more about it in Tuesday's game preview.

I think Troy can win, but I'm hesitant to pick them because I think FIU has better running backs, better receivers and a healthier, if not better, offensive line. But Troy is unbeaten on ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU games in the regular season. The only 3 losses came in bowl games, and 2 of those went into overtime.

***Here is something to watch over the last 6 games: Troy's junior college transfers usually take a big leap over the last half of their first season. Jimmie Anderson did it. Jason Bruce did it in 2009. I'd say even Jonathan Massaquoi was much more dominant in the second half of last year (he redshirted in '09). Dion Gales comes to mind and so does Elbert Mack. So, the guys to watch are receiver Corey Johnson and safety Brynden Trawick. Both of these guys were big-time playmakers in spring and while they're playing a lot, we're waiting on Trawick to get an INT or a forced fumble at a key time, and for Johnson to break a big play like he did during spring ball. If those guys can make that next step, and if Troy corrects the other issues more obvious to the non-coaches like you and I, they've got a chance to be good.

***No story in today's paper - worked on desk tonight, but watch for a story on Jamie Hampton in Monday's paper and a game preview Tuesday. My flight from Panama City to Fort Lauderdale leaves at 7 a.m. Monday, so I'll try to update it on a layover in Orlando.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday link

Just a quick post because Friday night was busy in the office with high school football.

HERE is a story I wrote on a few south Florida guys heading home for Troy's Tuesday game against FIU.

For a few FIU blogs, here's what I recommend.

The Miami Herald FIU blog is HERE.

Pete Pelegrin's blog on FIUSports.com is HERE.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Huddle: Troy vs. FIU

Listen to Jon Johnson and I talk about Troy football. We filmed this on Tuesday before the Arkansas State-FIU game.



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday link: Willis is back

Bryan Willis rose from a deep, dark hole and started to look like he did in 2009. He got the start in place of Jimmie Anderson (appendix) against ULM, though it turns out he would have started anyway on the other side of Anderson as the Trojans were searching for better play on defense.

Willis was pretty good in 2009 even though he was pretty much forced to play all the time out of necessity. He earned a starting spot that spring, and then 3 more corners were declared ineligible and he shined.

Last year? Not so much. He ended up losing his starting spot and falling further down the depth chart at the beginning of this season. What we didn't know is that he battled a hamstring issue last year and back spasms pretty much all summer and August. Now he's well, I think we'll see a lot more of him.

If you remember in the third quarter, he jumped about 3 feet in the air and nearly intercepted a pass. The play after that, ULM converted a 3rd and 4 for a 47-yard gain and all hell broke loose on both sides after that and 10-3 Troy turned into 38-10 ULM.

Tony Davis said Willis was the best basketball player on the football team, though it's not like they play pickup ball. Watching that attempt at an interception, I'd believe it.

You can read the story I wrote on Willis in the Thursday paper HERE.

FROM THE OTHER SIDE: A follow on FIU from its loss to Arkansas State from the Miami Herald. FIU is not good enough right now after its 3-0 start. FIU is now 4-3, 1-2 in Sun Belt play.

Also, this note on FIU's punting situation and preseason polls.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Auburn High linebacker commits to Troy

Troy got another commitment this week when Auburn High School linebacker Mitchell Roland committed to Troy.

"I've been up there (to Troy) a couple of times and I really like it," Roland said. "It's like a home away from home and it'll be a good place for me to be."

Roland, who is 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, is being recruited as a middle linebacker for the Trojans. He currently plays that position for AHS.

"I've got good lateral movement," Roland said. "I'm not going to run a 4.3 40, but I'll get to the ball."

Roland is a teammate of current Trojan commitment Cody Core, a wide receiver.

"We talk about it all the time, being Trojan men," Roland said.

Roland was also recruited by South Alabama, Southern Miss, Vanderbilt and other Sun Belt schools.

"I hope I can contribute next year," Roland said. "It's always a possibility (to redshirt), but I'm not going into it to try not to play."

**** (Star count is the highest rated I could find the commitment listed on all of the recruiting sites - rivals, scout, ESPN, 247sports.com)

HIGH SCHOOL
**Brandon Burks (RB, Daleville, Ala.)
**Cody Core (WR, Auburn, Ala.)
***Bobby Walker (WR, Fruit Cove, Fla.)
***Brandon Brooks (WR, Jacksonville, Fla.)
Michael Lindsey (WR, Elba, Ala.)
Antonio Garcia (OL, Riverdale, Ga.)
Mitchell Roland (LB, Auburn, Ala.)
***Shaquille Beverly (DB, Jacksonville, Fla.)
JaQuadrian Lewis (DB, Fitzgerald, Ga.)
JUNIOR COLLEGE
Chris Hawkins (OL, Hutchinson, Kan. CC)
**Brandon Timmons (DE, Northwest Miss. CC)

Wednesday links

I wrote today's story on junior defensive tackle Tony Davis, who has pretty much emerged as the leader on the defense. You don't hear about him because he's a defensive tackle, but he reminds me a lot of Frank "The Tank" Lloyd, an undersized but effective defensive tackle on Troy's 2006 team.

Story HERE

Defensive tackles coach Mo Crain had some good stuff to say about him and here's what he had to say about some other defensive tackles.

On leadership: "Pretty accurate. Hopefully others will take note and follow him. He does what he's supposed to do on the field. He does what he's supposed to off the field. He doesn't have to do a bunch of talking. He practices every down, he plays every play. If he's injured, he's injured. I guess that's how those Perry boys are built. Him and Kanorris are from the same mold there. Two kids that wouldn't be bad to follow."

On other defensive tackles and how they are performing: "It's a process, of course being in a different defense than we were in the spring. It's a little different to them, but it's coming along. It's a process. That's the best way I can put it. We haven't mastered it to this point, going into, what is this, week 8?, but we've improved in it, week to week. I can't say that I'm displeased, but we're obviously not where we expected to be at this point."

Differences in the defense from spring to now? "We're a little bit more base in our stances now. We're doing a little bit more squeezing, more gap control physically, instead of just getting in a stance, charging upfield and reading on the run. We have to be disciplined. Discipline takes consistency, so you have to do it over and over and over again. Our consistency is up and down at the moment with that. We're working on that to get better."

Who are some other guys stepping up? "As far as coming along, I would dare say John Clark followed by Kyle Lucas and Aaron Williams. Just growing in our program. That's the good thing that I like about those kids right there. They're with me now going on two years, three years. Tony has been with me going on four years since he redshirted. Those kids have grown in this program and they've learned what to expect from me and what we expect from them as a defense. As far as improvement, those guys have taken strides to get better."

On Shermane TeArt's health (shoulder): "I have no idea really. He was released to play last week and he didn't practice but one day and that was Thursday. In order to get paid, you have to go to work. I'm not going to make that mistake in a rush to say, 'OK, I've got him back. Let's put him in.' We have to actually do this throughout the week. I'm looking at maybe two more weeks. I see how he does. We have a little time here and I'll see how he does this week. If he's good to go, he's going to go. If not, he's not."


AROUND THE SUN BELT:
Arkansas State took a big step in its path towards a Sun Belt title, beating FIU on ESPN2. I never would have thought that Arkansas State-ULL would be the game that decides the Sun Belt title and Troy-FIU would be a game that may end up deciding who stays home for the holidays (and both might), but that's the Sun Belt.

FIU still doesn't know if Ryan Aplin has the ball or not and Aplin has what Troy used to have - some great receivers to throw the ball to. That's including Josh Jarboe, but I'm more impressed with the guys they've had for a while - Dwayne Frampton, Taylor Stockemer and Allen Muse. But Jarboe is a big weapon as well.

Troy has certainly moved on, but I'm allowed to wonder from my recliner at 1:25 a.m., in light of the offensive struggles of late, how the receiver group would be if Chip Reeves and Jamel Johnson were still eligible, Brett Moncrief hadn't of broken his foot and Jarboe had kept on the straight and narrow at Troy.

I do anticipate Moncrief playing a much bigger role in the second half of the season, but I don't know what kind of pain his foot is in. He's caught a few short passes this year, but not much. His skill set is much better than that when healthy.

Since Troy plays FIU next Tuesday, you can read the Miami Herald account of the game HERE

FIU star T.Y. Hilton had another injury scare in the game, plus other notes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Daleville running back picks Troy

Daleville running back Brandon Burks committed to Troy tonight. He just got his offer today and he had been recruited heavily by UAB and Arkansas State.

HERE is the link to the story.

Burks was recruited by Shayne Wasden. He's the second Wiregrass athlete to pick Troy for the 2012 class. Elba receiver Michael Lindsey committed to Troy a few weeks ago.

So Troy has commitments from guys named Brandon Burks and Brandon Brooks. Yeah, that won't be confusing.

HIGH SCHOOL
**Brandon Burks (RB, Daleville, Ala.)
**Cody Core (WR, Auburn, Ala.)
***Bobby Walker (WR, Fruit Cove, Fla.)
***Brandon Brooks (WR, Jacksonville, Fla.)
Michael Lindsey (WR, Elba, Ala.)
Antonio Garcia (OL, Riverdale, Ga.)
***Shaquille Beverly (DB, Jacksonville, Fla.)
JaQuadrian Lewis (DB, Fitzgerald, Ga.)
JUNIOR COLLEGE
Chris Hawkins (OL, Hutchinson, Kan. CC)
**Brandon Timmons (DE, Northwest Miss. CC)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tuesday links

If you read the long blog post yesterday, you know some of these notes. But if not, and even if so, here's what went in the Tuesday paper.

MAIN STORY - on Trojans rebounding from the ULM loss

NOTEBOOK - on injuries and other stuff.

I'll be on the radio with John & Barry in Montgomery shortly after 9:30 a.m. CST on 740 AM. You can listen online HERE.

Don't forget to watch FIU at Arkansas State on ESPN2 tonight.

Monday afternoon notes

Here's some stuff we got from talking to players and coaches about ULM and looking ahead to FIU.

***Head coach Larry Blakeney said it looks like right guard Jacob Creech will have knee surgery and be out for the season. Creech hurt his knee against ULL and didn't play for ULM. In that case, looks like true freshman Zach Johnson will continue to be the right guard. Left guard Kyle Wilborn is playing through some pain. The health of the O-Line is one reason for some struggles.

***Looking like, according to Blakeney, the wide receiver rotation will shorten up. They had been playing anybody with eligibility, it seemed. Now, looks like they want to focus on getting the ball in the hands of guys like Eric Thomas, Chandler Worthy, Brett Moncrief (if he's fully well) and Blakeney mentioned Corey Johnson, Justin Albert and Jaquon Robinson, and said B.J. Chitty had been hit or miss.

Blakeney said that they are really missing guys like Chip Reeves and Jamel Johnson, who were ineligible. Both would have been strong outside receivers and could have allowed Thomas to stay as an inside receiver.

***They're optimistic on getting cornerback Jimmie Anderson (appendix) back for FIU, but who knows. Blakeney said the starting corners for the ULM game would have been Anderson and Bryan Willis (instead of Chris Pickett). Coaches said Willis played the best of all of them. Willis fell off the map because he battled hamstring problems last year (he was fully healthy and effective in 2009) and back problems in the summer and during early part of this year.

***With ULM up 15-10, ULM kicked off after scoring a touchdown. Chandler Worthy lost the ball, but recovered it while on the ground. It was pretty clear on the TV replay that the ball should have stuck with Troy, but officials allowed there to be a big pile and of course the 160-pound Worthy was going to lose it to a ULM guy 60 pounds bigger.

Blakeney regretted not using the challenge that he still had after winning a challenge early in the game because replay would have given Troy the ball. Not long after that, ULM went up 22-10.

***The big pay that got ULM's offense going in the second half was this: a 49-yard pass from Kolton Browning to Tavarese Maye on 3rd and 4 from ULM 48 to the Troy 4. Later, ULM scored to cut Troy's lead to 10-9. Here's how Jeremy Rowell explained it, as Browning was able to get free from the pass rush.

"We come off the edge, we’ve got it set up and we’ve got everybody covered and we let the quarterback out," Rowell said. "He scrambles around and the wrong guy in the flat comes off and it leaves a guy sitting. Boom, they convert. We should have had them off the field."

After that, it was a combination of things: lost confidence, missed assignments, etc., stuff that has plagued the defense when it's gone through rough stretches in games. The defense was decent until that point of the game, and then it just fell off.

"We are our own worst enemy right now," Rowell said. "Until we can overcome that, we’re going to deal with the same struggles. We’ve got to figure out how to deal with ourselves.

"It’s a confidence thing. It’s almost when something bad happens to us, everybody’s eyes go to the wrong position. They all go looking to the backfield at the quarterback. You get to looking around instead of doing, reading your guy, doing your job. People are going to make a play on you, that’s part of football. You can’t panic when that happens."

***Quarterback Corey Robinson knew he had a rough game against ULM and is looking forward to moving on.

"Obviously everybody knows and I know and our team knows that I didn’t play up to my ability," Robinson said. "All I can do is apologize to those guys for that. I told them I’m going to get better, it’s going to change and that’s not going to happen again. Whatever I need to do to change my mental aspects going in, I’m going to change that. That’s all I can say about that."

***Yes, the offensive yardage looked bad, but coordinator Kenny Edenfield feels like the mistakes were correctable. Just like last year against ULM, when Troy struggled, but the mistakes were corrected.

"After a poor performance, of course, we're getting back to the drawing board, making sure, reevaluating everything we're doing and we have," Edenfield said. "The bottom line is we have to do a better job of getting our kids in position. Some kids can make some plays. We have some playmakers and we're going to try to get them the ball more, maybe, and executing what we're asking them to do."

On the offensive performance: I've never had a performance like that, so it surprised me a heck of a lot. But when you go back and watch the video and you evaluate as you're watching the video, if you didn't know what had happened at the end, you might not think it happened anyway. There are things that were there that we've just got to take advantage of.

"Every thing we saw the other night that did not go well is very correctable. It can be corrected at practice, it can be corrected to take to the games. It's not a lot of major things, though to the outside person it may seem that way."

"Monroe, they were probably the best defense we've played statistically, but the bottom line in that game was that we had opportunities to make plays and didn't get it done. Anybody is welcome to watch the game, watch the film, you'll see exactly what I see. It's there. We have to take advantage of it. We have to do a good job of coaching them up to know what they can do. They have to take our coaching from practice and apply it to the game."

Baseball wins fall exhibition

***Troy's baseball team won its annual fall exhibition over a team from Canada (story HERE). I think the 2012 Trojans should be pretty good again and how good will depend on how healthy the pitchers can stay.

***Troy's football media gathering is today, so this afternoon I'll update with what they're saying. Troy is at FIU next Tuesday. FIU is at Arkansas State this Tuesday on ESPN2.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Postgame links

Hard to wrap my head around what happened there. I thought Troy would bounce back, but they didn't. This is pretty much the same team that played toe-to-toe with Clemson for a half and Arkansas for about 2/3 of the game, minus Jimmie Anderson, who was out. But even if he was healthy, I'm guessing the same result happens tonight.

Hard to be optimistic about the rest of the season, but there's still half of it to go. But Troy is staring two tough road games in the face and could find itself 2-6 if they aren't able to make some fixes.

Meanwhile, if you wish to read...

Game story - HERE

Notebook - HERE

Jon Johnson's column - HERE

Leave some comments on the blog about what you think is wrong and needs to be fixed, if you think it can

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Trojans pounded, here's what they said

Troy fell 38-10 at home to ULM - worst home loss since who knows how long. Even in the 52-35 loss to FIU, the Trojans still were competitive offensively.

Troy's defense was very good until the second half, when it broke. Troy's offense never got going. Troy's special teams was bad, too.

“Obviously as everybody saw, we’ve got to get a lot better on the offensive side of the ball,” Troy quarterback Corey Robinson said. “They just beat us. That’s it. They beat us.”

“The bottom fell out, I guess,” Robinson added. “Little things that maybe not everybody sees but we all know. Little things win and lose games, so I guess we’ve got to start capitalizing on the little things and become a better football team because we’re pretty down right now.”

LARRY BLAKENEY: "Whats going on is I think there’s some pretty good teams and coaches in our league. Everybody gets to coach and play. Normally in our business in this game when you don’t win, you got outcoached and outplayed. You’ve got to give Todd Berry and his staff and those guys with ULM all the credit. We’ve certainly got some work to do. It’s pretty obvious."

"Sometimes you just get whipped. I would say that’s a good appraisal of what happened tonight. Troy got whipped. We got whipped across the board.

"That don’t taste very good. There’s only one way to do something about it."

Trojans were held to just 126 total yards, though 28 lost yards came when a snap went over Will Goggans' head and into the end zone for a safety.

"We’ve got to do something," Blakeney said. "We’ve got to get to where we can run it a little bit better to offset some of the things we’re getting or we’ve got to throw and catch better. I won’t leave out coaching, too. I’m standing down there watching that, too. That’s where I come in."

Later on, I'll get postgame links added.

Cheking in from Troy-ULM: Anderson out

Troy has a big loss before the game as senior cornerback Jimmie Anderson is out. He had appendix surgery on Friday and the hope is that he'll be back before the FIU game on Oct. 25.

Looks like you'll see a lot of former starter Bryan Willis or freshman Ethan Davis on the other side of current healthy starter Chris Pickett.

Anderson might be the most important player on Troy's defense. I'll be able to better answer that question after the game.

Anderson has 21 tackles and an interception, but his INT set up the go-ahead score in the 24-23 win over UAB two weeks ago.

Gameday: Troy vs. ULM

As much as I'd love to do a 1st and 10 like last week, it got long tonight with high school football and office work.

I also got to talk to a 15-year-old kid who bowled a 300 just a few days ago for an upcoming story. That was pretty neat. Youngest kid to bowl a perfect game in Dothan.

I do get the feeling Troy bounces back to get a win in this one. I know Troy will have to battle some early adversity, but Sun Belt games aren't easy any more. They never were against ULM, which has always fielded a strong team against Troy despite its record.

Game preview in Saturday's paper HERE.

Drew's pick: Troy 31, ULM 20 (Troy converts its red zone opportunities into touchdowns and an unheralded defensive player - not sure who - steps up).

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday link

In case you didn't know, Troy head coach Larry Blakeney is coaching his 250th game at Troy on Saturday.

Also, it's the 250th game for Chuck Ash as the head trainer. Ash is the guy that gets everybody well and keeps them in line.

THIS STORY focuses on the 250th game for the pair, who are great friends, but also more about Ash and what all his week entails and some experiences.

From over in Monroe, HERE is a notebook leading with ULM receiver Anthony McCall, who is from Montgomery.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Troy basketball notes

Troy's men's basketball team opens practice Friday afternoon. The Trojans were 8-21, 6-10 in Sun Belt play last year, and open the season at Texas Tech (predicted last in the Big 12 but the first game for new coach Billy Gillispie) on Nov. 11

Only three players who played for Troy last year return - point guard Will Weathers, a star in the Sun Belt, forward Steve Cunningham and center Tim Owens.

Cunningham and Owens are the team's lone seniors. Maestri expects both to be much improved, and Cunningham has a chance to really boost his 4.4 points per game last year as he's expected to get more scoring opportunities.

"Cunningham will score more," Maestri said. "He worked all summer on his shot and his free throw shooting. He's definitely one of the leaders of this basketball team, along with Tim Owens."

It's hard to figure out who will start and play where, with 10 scholarship players who did not play last year for Troy. Two of them - guards R.J. Scott and Nic Combs - redshirted last year. Scott is a UCF transfer and Combs had a hand injury.

"We're starting all over," Maestri said. "It's a brand new team as far as experience. These guys have to grow up quick, no doubt about it. For us to have success, I hope we learn quick."

Troy has two true freshmen on its roster, and both are centers - signee Breon Dixon and walk-on Sidki Muwallif, who Maestri feels like is a steal for the program.

"He's going to be a good player for us," Maestri said. "We have high hopes for him. He's very skilled, but he needs strength and size. He's a very talented player, though."

Troy will play four perimeter players and one post player, with the post players being those two freshmen, Owens and junior college transfers Ray Chambers and Westley Hinton. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Chambers averaged nearly 19 ppg and 10 rpg at an Illinois junior college. Hinton is a little bit taller, but not as offensively skilled as Chambers.

Who's going to score? Of the new guys, Maestri mentioned Emil Jones, a big-time scorer at nearby Pearl River Community College, and a couple of others Troy got Daronte Clark after his freshman season at NW Florida State College, Alan Jones, "an outstanding 3-point shooter" and Justin Wright, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound transfer from Pensacola Junior College.

"He's a very versatile player that can score outside or around the basket," Maestri said of Wright.

The bad news - Wright has a back injury and will be limited early on, if he's even able to practice.

"We needed him badly," Maestri said. "I hope he's back soon because he'll be a vital part to our team."

From the other side: ULM

In this week's Q and A, Dusty Thibodeaux of WarhawkReport.com gives us some insight into the ULM football team.

1. Are you surprised in a good or bad way about ULM's season to date, or is the results so far about what you expected?
- I am not surprised by the team's slow start. The Warhawks have traditionally been a late blooming team, add to that tough early games against Florida State, Iowa, and TCU and I think ULM is right on course for the season. As for surprises, I am a little shocked at the persistent inconsistent play. If the Warhawks are moving the ball strongly on the offense, the defense is absent, and vice versa. The good news for ULM though is that the good play of receiver Brent Leonard, Tavarese Maye on the offense and of DE Ken Dorsey and Hawk Darrius Prelow has carried over from last season's 5-7 performance.

2. With a bunch of returning starters, were hopes high to challenge for the Sun Belt title or still a year away?
- While first year Head Coach Todd Berry looked to have the Warhawks in contention, the 2011 season still has the jury out. At 0-1 after just one conference game ULM has to still be considered to have an outside chance at a title, since the conference champion has had at least one loss every year except three (North Texas 2002 & 03, Troy 09).

3. Strengths and weaknesses of the ULM offense?
- For the first time since Berry was the offensive coordinator at ULM (2005), the Warhawk offensive strength is it's passing attack. The corp of receivers and the additional seasoning from qb Kolton Browning has enabled the play book to be wide open through this season, with more still to be seen. As for the weakness, it's definitely consistency. The Warhawks have been unable to put together back to back solid performances.
4. Strengths and weaknesses of the ULM defense?
- To some degree the ULM secondary, as they have hauled in six interceptions, tying them for the third most in the conference. Just like the offense though, the Warhawk secondary has yet to put together a solid back to back performance.

5. How do you see the game going Saturday? (you can predict a score if you'd like)
I think this could be a fairly even game through the first half, but the ULM curse of having not won at Troy in Sun Belt Conference action will not end this year as the Trojans pull ahead in the 4th quarter.

Thursday links/video

Wrote THIS STORY on how sophomore Eric Thomas has turned into the go-to receiver for quarterback Corey Robinson.

Troy uses a lot of receivers, and different ones have had big games, but Thomas has been money in every game so far. He has 5 touchdowns and could set Troy's Division I record for single-season receiving touchdowns (9 by Heyward Skipper in 2001), though the school record is Danny Grant's 14 in 1968.

Seems tough to reach, but Thomas scored 28 touchdowns in 15 games as a high school senior. He's a guy that might be playing at an SEC school had his ACT score been good in the fall of his senior year instead of later on in the spring, which is when Troy signed up.

There's also stuff in that story about what type of defense Troy will face vs. ULM.

And here is the weekly The Huddle edition with myself and Lance Griffin.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Big news - Wright Waters retiring

Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters has announced his retirement, effective July 2012.

You can read the Sun Belt's release HERE.

Waters was the first commissioner when the league added football. Say what you want, but the league is light years better after his arrival. I'll always be appreciative of his professionalism towards the media. The next commissioner has some big shoes to fill, but also a good foundation to build from.

Also, HERE is a report from the Sun Belt fall meetings.

And with Waters' retirement announcement, we'll wonder where he is. So will this guy

Wednesday links

Today's story is about another walk-on who has come to Troy and ended up being an integral part of the team.

Read running back D.J. Taylor's story HERE. With size, speed and stats, it was hard to figure out why no one wanted Taylor, except for a few smaller schools, but his decision to walk on to Troy paid off as he earned a scholarship and a big role in Troy's offense.

From over in Monroe, coach Todd Berry takes the blame for the team's errors in a 24-19 loss to Arkansas State.

It's a big game for both teams, who were looked at as threats for the Sun Belt title. Despite Troy losing 2 and still tying for a 5th straight title, a loss would nearly end championship hopes for both teams, though a bowl game is certainly attainable.

O-LINE BANGED UP: As I mentioned the other day, guards Kyle Wilborn (shoulder) and Jacob Creech (knee) got hurt vs. ULL. I expect Wilborn to play vs. ULM. Creech, we're not sure about just yet but I'd bet more in his favor than against him if he can move around.

"They're both banged up," Kenny Edenfield said. "They're trying to battle through it. We kind of gauge each week how they are as to where we're at. If they can go, we'll let them. If not, we get somebody else ready. That's the good part about the game is the next guy is ready to roll. We've got some guys we feel like we can trust to put in there that were in there the other night and did some good things. We're just going to go with the next person. Like I said, you get banged up all week and try to do as much as you can in practice to get your reps. Then, you go into another physical game and you get banged up again. It's a constant battle.

On Zach Johnson, the true freshman who played 44 snaps at RG: "I think he played really well. Grading film, John (Schlarman) felt he did a really good job. His first real extensive time that he's had he's been in there. Like we said going into (preseason) camp, he just needs some experience. It looks like he's fixing to get some."

Would he start if Creech can't go? "He'd be one of those guys. We have Jarred Fleming that can move to guard. We have a couple of scenarios. Jimbo Arnold did a nice job when he was in there. He really played a good game when he was in there. We have some guys that will battle. We'll be all right."


ULM PRESS CONFERENCE VIDEO: You can watch ULM coach Todd Berry HERE

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tuesday links

Apologies for no blog post this afternoon, but had other responsibilities at the Eagle today.

HERE is the main story about Troy looking to correct mistakes.

HERE is the notebook, which has some injury notes.

Injury notes that I'm aware of
QB Corey Robinson (shoulder) rest during week, still playing
LG Kyle Wilborn - hurt shoulder vs. ULL, playing through it
RG Jacob Creech - hurt knee vs. ULL, status unknown
DT Shermane TeArt - missed last 3 games (shoulder), got some work in Sunday at practice
DB Ethan Davis - (knee) missed last 2 games, could have played vs. ULL, should play vs. ULM
DB Brynden Trawick - poked in eye vs. ULL, is fine

TALKING TURNOVERS: I asked Kenny Edenfield what happened with the two turnovers - the interception return for a touchdown and the fumble lost inside the ULL 5-yard line.

On the interception - "Two things. First of all, he had to look where he could take the seam throw or take the comeback on the outside. He basically had them both in. he threw the ball a little early and made a bad throw. He just made a bad throw. The ball is behind him and out here. If he gets the ball inside, he might catch it and be on the 5-yard line. His decision was fine. He just made a bad throw.

"People don't understand, but when you throw the ball 50 times, you're going to have one or two bad throws. I hate to say that. They forget about all the ones he sticks right in there. He knows it. He'd like to have that play back. He kind of got off his back foot a little bit and hurried it."

On the fumble - "That one there, I really do not know. Talking with him, he had a chance to throw it. It would have been a touchdown if he threw it. He kind of hesitated. He said he felt like he was getting pressure, and he was fixing to step up and that's when the guy got him. Really, it was a play designed where we were going to take the shot or throw it out of bounds and go for third down. It was second down. We had already talked about it all week. We were going to take the shot, take a chance to get it. If not, throw it in the back of the end zone. He was going to try to step up and make the play, but he held it too long. You can't do that."

EXECUTION: Guys are being put in positions to succeed on both sides of the ball. It's just not happening at this point consistently early in the season as it has in the past. Part of that is being young at critical areas, such as wide receiver. Other parts are not getting push from the defensive line and/or the other team guessing right, and stupid penalties on both sides. Had someone who knows the game well tell me Monday that, at this point, it's about who makes the plays. ULL made the plays Saturday. Troy did not. There's no big amount of separation among the Sun Belt teams and you're seeing that. I don't think it's a case of Troy getting worse, but of other teams getting better. Hard for fans (of any school) to accept it, but other teams recruit well and coach well, too.

"Comparing it to my freshman year back in 2009 when we had all the great players on our team, we pretty much breezed through conference," left guard Kyle Wilborn said. "Up by 40 every game. Obviously, that's changed. I think everyone across the conference has better talent. It's definitely equal playing the game for us. Everyone is getting a lot better."

RADIO: I'll be on Tuesday morning with John & Barry out of 740 AM in Montgomery at 9:30 a.m. CST or a little after. You can listen online HERE

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The sun came up today

...and Troy's football team will still press on.

The loss to ULL on Saturday reminded me a bit of the ULM game last year, a 28-14 ULM win. Something about those road games in the state of Louisiana. Both were games where, while the opponents were strong, it's not like they were worlds better than the Trojans, but they wouldn't let the Trojans get back in the game after throwing some early punches.

Who knows if ULL will hold on and win the Sun Belt - Cajuns have won the tough part of its schedule and the odds are in their favor - but you've got to figure that they'll be in the New Orleans Bowl regardless, assuming they don't choke and go 5-7. I'm seeing 8-4 at worst, and probably a New Orleans Bowl attendance record with ULL's close proximity, great fan base and a matchup against a team in this region.

That means Troy needs to pick it up and win out in league play and go to Mobile - or tempt fate of being left out of a bowl or going to a place like Detroit, which actually doesn't have the Sun Belt secondary tie-in anymore. There is no "third bowl" to fall back on for any Sun Belt team, but there are so many bowls that I'd like to think a third Sun Belt team will end up somewhere out of necessity.

Troy's offensive line is beat up. Right guard Jacob Creech hurt his knee in the first half. I don't know how serious. Left guard Kyle Wilborn hurt his shoulder again - he's had both labrums fixed through surgery - and he'll be playing with pain for the rest of the year more than likely. If Creech is out for a few games, looks like true freshman Zach Johnson could get some starts.

But Troy's opponent - ULM - had its quarterback, Kolton Browning - leave the game with an undisclosed injury, according to scout.com, on Saturday. Browning had a heck of a day last year in the ULM win in Monroe.

Monday is press conference day, so I'll be looking to get a blog post up in the late afternoon with some notes. If there are any other injuries that pop up that went unnoticed from the game on my end, I'll try to update.

Postgame links

HERE is the game story

HERE is my notebook. It leads with the Trojans not being happy over the 4th and 1 pass interference call late in the third quarter. Troy should have gotten the ball after the incompletion and it would have just been down 14.

***I hesitate to give opinions on why stuff doesn't work or what-not. I'd rather just ask the coaches and have them tell me after seeing film. I think I'll do just that on Monday.

***Having said that, offensively, Troy doesn't have the group of receivers that it's had in the past. They have some guys who can catch a ball here and there, and I think Eric Thomas is a really good player, but Thomas isn't a guy that you throw a slip screen to and have him go 70 yards for a touchdown. He's a guy that can haul in a deep pass, catch a pass in traffic and even break some tackles to score from 27 yards out. But what Troy lacks is that game-changing receiver, or running back. I thought they'd have a couple that might could break a big play against a Sun Belt team, but we haven't seen it yet. It might be Chandler Worthy, but he's just a freshman and Jerrel Jernigan didn't do much until later on in the year. Worthy's fast, but he's also not as big as Jernigan even was as a freshman and Worthy doesn't play a whole lot not.

With that, Troy just turns into an average playmaking offense with a good quarterback. I think most of the receivers are possession guys who can haul in a first down pass and even a deep pass, but there's no one to yet put the fear of God in a defense like Jernigan did.

When I say that, I have no idea who's running their routes right and wrong, who's taking plays off, not making their blocks, etc. This is just on eyeball and memory.

***What about the defense? Well, they're definitely not starting games off well (neither is the offense). After that, they're average, but you turn poor when you make dumb mistakes. ULL's second touchdown came after even better field position thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The TD to go ahead 31-10 came after the bad pass interference call, but that one call didn't lose the game.

***Easy to say Troy regressed in this one, but the easiest point of all from tonight's game is that Mark Hudspeth is one heck of a coach. He's got ULL playing with intensity and playing physical. Troy isn't dominating the league like it did in 2007 or 2009, and more of that is because of the rest of the league getting better as opposed to Troy's talent level. The Trojans have some good players - plenty of NFL guys? Don't know about that - but while things look bleak, they will get better. However, it's hard to just assume the Trojans will beat ULM, FIU and Arkansas State like it was a few years back. I've got to think North Texas, FAU and Western Kentucky are sure wins, but I guess we'll find out.

Friday, October 7, 2011

1st and 10: Troy at UL-Lafayette

Figured I'd try to do a little different format for a gameday blog. 10 things you may or may not know about the games. Or add a link or a prediction in there.

10 - Troy is hoping to cool off the Ragin' Cajuns. Game preview story for Saturday paper online HERE. From the paper in Lafayette, HERE is a look at the game from the eyes of ULL defensive coordinator Greg Stewart.

9 - Troy defensive tackle Tony Davis should play after his concussion. He is on the trip. If he's limited, look for some combination of Tony Gillespie or John Clark to get his reps.

8 - Troy offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield is close friends with ULL defensive coordinator Greg Stewart. Their families vacation together. I guessed wrong last night when I first typed this, but Edenfield's UNA team did get the best of Stewart's Jacksonville State in 2003, a 28-16 win.

7 - QB battle. ULL's Blaine Gautier leads the league in QB rating at 153.6. Troy QB Corey Robinson leads the league in yards per game at 332 ypg, but he's fifth in passer rating at 125.3.

6 - ULL has two of the league's top players in tackles for loss - DL Bernard Smith (6.0) and LB Lance Kelley (5.5)

5 - Troy has lost to ULL just once, in 2005. My first year covering Troy, the Trojans got down 21-0, then 21-14, then 28-14, and Julian Foster threw a touchdown pass to Toris Rutledge, and Foster got hurt and Carl Meadows led the team on the game-tying drive with a TD pass to Smokey Hampton. ULL got a FG to start overtime, then after a couple of poor play calls on 2nd and 3rd & long, Greg Whibbs' field goal was wide left and ULL won 31-28.

4 - ULL wideout Harry Peoples caught a career-high 12 passes last week

3 - Troy QB Corey Robinson completed passes to 15 different receivers last week. The only WR or TEs who have played without a catch this year is TE Cody Woodiel, and he's more of a blocker.

2 - Turnover margin? ULL leads the league at +3, Troy is 8th at -2.

1 - Drew's pick? ULL 28, Troy 27 - I think Troy is more banged up than we realize but the Trojans are resilient. however, ULL is hot and is better at protecting the ball/forcing turnovers and in the special teams.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Friday links/From the Other Side/Video

I'm off to Lafayette this morning, so I'll make it quick.

As you know, Troy offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield has connections to ULL's coaches. He was offered to go there. Troy stepped it up and kept him.

HERE is that story, with a short mini-story about the development of ULL quarterback Blaine Gautier at the end.

Looks like Troy got some good news as junior defensive tackle Tony Davis posted on his twitter that he was cleared to go to ULL. Davis suffered a mild concussion against UAB and I'd expect that he's back in the starting lineup.

FROM THE OTHER SIDE: I did a Q and A with Joshua Parrott of the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette. He's actually covering K-12 education now, but still has a pretty good pulse on the program. Here's what he had to say.

1. Did you think ULL would be 4-1, 2-0 in SBC play at this point and what's the biggest reason they are where they are?

Being completely honest, I never thought they'd be 4-1 at this point. First-year coach Mark Hudspeth has brought a lot of excitement and confidence to the program after the Cajuns reached the six-win mark under Rickey Bustle but were unable to get over the hump. There are also some newcomers making an immediate impact, plus junior QB Blaine Gautier has been impressive and sparked the offense since becoming the full-time starter.

2. How was Blaine Gautier able to wrestle the starting job away from a 2-year starter in Chris Masson and what are his strengths?

Basically, Gautier played well, but it was more of Masson not playing well. Gautier also adds another dimension to the offense, while Masson is less mobile. Gautier is a bit undersized at 6-0, but he's got a strong arm and can make plays out of the pocket. His issue was being stuck behind Masson for two years when Bustle was here. Gautier can sometimes be a bit careless with the ball, but he's getting better every game he plays.


3. Where are some areas Troy could take advantage of?

While there's some young talent, the Cajuns have lacked discipline and been called for numerous penalties. Chalk that up to inexperience. Their top two running backs are true freshmen. RB Alonzo Harris, an Alabama native, and Qyen Griffin, a prep All-American from Mississippi, will be challenged as blockers against Troy's D-line. Their defense has playmakers but has struggled in recent weeks, especially late last week against FAU.

4. What are some advantages you'd think ULL has over Troy?

The Cajuns are playing without fear right now and are hardly concerned with Troy's reputation. They have a bunch of offensive playmakers in Gautier, Harris, Griffin and All-America tight end Ladarius Green, who is finally healthy after being slowed earlier in the year with a shoulder injury. The corners are experienced, and the secondary has returned three picks for touchdowns. K/P Brett Baer leads the league in scoring, kicked the winning field goal last week vs FAU and is a proven threat.

5. Best place(s) to eat for an outside visitor?

A lot of people go to Prejean's, but there are a few nice places pretty close to Cajun Field. I like the Blue Dog Cafe for anything Cajun and Pete's for burgers and drinks. There's also a bar near the field called "Legends" if anyone wants to enjoy some food and drinks before the game and don't want to tailgate.

6. How do you see the game going? (you can predict a score if you'd like)

These are the top two teams in the Sun Belt right now. I believe the winner will win the league. The Cajuns, who I picked to go 5-7 this year, have started to make me a believer this season with their hot start, but there's still work to be done. Home-field advantage gives them the edge in what should be a great game. I'll say the Cajuns win, 30-27.


Finally, The Huddle: Troy edition


Thursday links/notes

Wrote THIS STORY on Troy linebacker Angelo Hadley, who is getting his second chance to play football and be a college student at Troy. He got into some trouble in 2009 and North Carolina yanked his scholarship.

I think, provided he stays out of trouble at Troy (and he has no choice because he's on probation for 5 years), that he'll be a good one on the field.

SCHEDULING: As you know, the Sun Belt will add South Alabama to league schedules next year, though the Jags won't be eligible for a league title or bowl game until 2013.

From 2013-2015, Troy will miss one team. In 2015, provided the Sun Belt is still at 10 teams, each team will play everyone once.

Troy will not play ULM in 2012, will not play ULL in 2013 and will not play FAU in 2014.

2012: Away at South Alabama, Middle Tennessee, FAU, North Texas. Home vs. ULL, Western Kentucky, Arkansas State and FIU

2013: Away at ULM, Arkansas State, WKU, FIU. Home vs. South Alabama, North Texas, FAU, Middle Tennessee

2014: Away at South Alabama, North Texas, ULL and Middle Tennessee. Home vs. FIU, Western Kentucky, ULM, Arkansas State

ATHLETIC DIRECTOR SALARIES: Want to know how much your favorite athletic director makes? The USA Today has THIS LIST of athletic director salaries at FBS schools across the country.