I left my desk in Toledo at 5:00, stopped in Bowling Green to pick up Brandi, and managed to make it to the game just before the 7:30 kickoff. I arrived without a terribly clear idea of what to expect from the game or from the Trojans in general. I knew that Troy had sixteen starters returning, eight on each side of the ball, and that was encouraging. However, I also knew that Coffman had most of their team back from last year, and last year they beat the Trojans 42-14 in Dublin. That was obviously a concern, especially since Coffman runs the spread offense, which Troy has historically had problems defending.
It quickly became clear, however, that this was going to be a defensive struggle. Troy's Wing-T offense wasn't generating much room for the backs to operate, and throwing the ball, even to open up the run, apparently wasn't an option. Likewise, Troy was stuffing Coffman's running game, and while they gave up quite a few passing yards, they made plays and got stops when they needed to. The difference in the game came down to special teams. Troy's Corey Brown returned the opening kickoff of the second half 95 yards for a touchdown, and later the Trojans recovered a fumbled punt snap deep in their own territory, leading to a field goal. Without those two plays, this is a different game.
I came away quite impressed with the Trojan defense, which is something I haven't been able to say very often in the past few years. I'm not going to sugar-coat the fact that they got lucky on a couple of occasions when Coffman receivers dropped passes they should or could have caught, but it would also be foolish not to recognize that they did their part in creating that luck. They were chasing the Coffman QB around quite a bit, not letting him get comfortable and throw the ball when and where he wanted. The linebackers and secondary also did fairly well in coverage. They didn't give up any really big plays, and they generally stayed close to enough to at least harass the receiver when they didn't swat the ball or pick it off. They did come up with a couple of key interceptions in the closing minutes to preserve the victory. All in all, it was a huge improvement from what I've seen from Troy's defense in past years. This won't be the last time we'll see the spread offense this year, so it's good to know that they're capable of at least slowing it down.
I think the offense did fairly well given the toughness of the defense, but I think Troy's coaching staff could have helped them out a little more. Following Troy football as I have over the years, I'm as aware as anyone that this is a severely run-heavy offense, but on a night when rushing yards are so tough to come by, I think more than seven pass attempts are in order. I also think that halfback Corey Brown maybe should have gotten more than eight carries (for 53 yards and a touchdown). That's not to take anything away from the other backs (particularly fullback Dustin Messer, who carried 19 times for 83 yards), who ran hard against a tough defense and got what yards they could, but Brown seemed to find seams and holes more easily than they did. But hey, they scored enough points to win, and that's all that matters at the end of the game.
This game gave me a lot of hope for the rest of the season. The Trojans went toe-to-toe with a good team and came out on top. Coffman is going to win their share of games, and I've heard some talk of them as a state championship contender. While my hopes for the Trojans aren't quite that high (yet), it was encouraging to see that they can play at that level. Most of all, I'm just glad that the season has started. The fact that the Trojans might be pretty good this year is just icing on that cake.
My photos from the game
A Matter of Will...