Thursday, August 27, 2015

Troy 42 CJ 31

This, my friends. This. This was a big win for the Troy football program.

Last year the Trojans finished 1-9, one of the worst seasons in their long and storied history. That fact cost Scot Brewer his job as head coach after three disappointing seasons at the helm and paved the way for new coach Matt Burgbacher and his staff to take over. Since Coach Brewer had played and coached under the previous coach, Steve Nolan, Burgbacher's arrival represented the first real new blood in the program since Nolan himself was hired to lead the Trojans in 1984. So there was more than a passing interest in seeing how the team would look in their first game under such circumstances.

Early on, it looked like it might be more of the same, at least in terms of results, as Chaminade-Julienne jumped out to an early 10-0 lead. But the Trojans came alive from there, drawing the Eagles into something of a shootout, finally going ahead for good and then even pulling away a bit in the fourth quarter for the final 11-point victory. It was an impressive all-around win, especially since this game last year ended in a 42-7 smackdown loss on Troy's own home field. Granted, CJ lost some really good players to graduation and transfer, but for those watching, this year's result was pretty clearly a reflection of how much better Troy has gotten.

Coach Burgbacher so far has talked a great deal about the tradition and history of Troy's football program, and there's certainly plenty of that to go around, which he is now in a position to add to. However, given the length of Nolan's tenure and the results of Coach Brewer's, there will naturally be plenty of compare/contrast notes over the course of the season. Here's the main thing I noticed: Coach Nolan was always the epitome of cool, calm, and collected on the sidelines, and while occasionally there would be individual players that you could tell were more emotional, overall the personality of his teams could be described as "businesslike," and that seemed to carry over to Coach Brewer's teams as well. Coach Burgbacher, on the other hand, has got some fire to him, and it seems like the team has embraced that approach. The players were clearly pretty jazzed to be on the field, and when it came down to crunch time and victory was in their grasp, they played like they could smell the blood in the water. It was awesome.

Particularly impressive was the Trojans' play on offense. Coach Brewer's teams were generally pretty solid on defense, but on offense it often seemed like they just couldn't get out of their own way. Last season, they didn't score their 42nd point until their sixth game, and were shut out four times. Although Coach Burgbacher promised to bring back the Wing-T, the offense Troy ran under Coach Nolan, it was not in evidence on this night, as quarterback Hayden Kotwica didn't take a snap from under center until the team lined up in the victory formation for the last two snaps of the game. They ran a lot of read option out of the shotgun, and Kotwica managed it beautifully, rushing for over 60 yards himself and handing off to halfback Marc Scordia 28 times for 168 yards (and two TDs).

Kotwica also completed nine passes (on 20 attempts) for 212 yards and three touchdowns (including a pass to Hayden Jackson that turned into a 97-yard TD, the longest in school history). The passing game brings up another point of comparison to the two previous regimes--Coach Nolan was known for his run-heavy offense, and even during years with a decent passing complement, straight drop-backs were often a mess in terms of pass protection, resulting in a high number of pass plays being run via the bootleg. That continued under Coach Brewer, but early evidence suggests this may be a thing of the past. The offensive line did a great job all around, but I particularly appreciated how they gave Kotwica time in the pocket, as it's something that's been rare to see in years past.

I mentioned Marc Scordia's rushing stats, and he obviously had a good night. He was more workmanlike than flashy, but that was exactly what the Trojans needed, and I for one was quite impressed. He did a really nice job of finding a seam, getting into the secondary, and then falling forward as he was finally brought down. His performance was huge considering expected starter Elijah Pearson didn't make it into the game. Pearson showed flashes of talent last season but had trouble staying on the field due to injuries; hopefully this year won't follow a similar path. He and Scordia together would make a pretty formidable tandem in the backfield.

Defense was the calling card for Coach Brewer's teams, fitting since he served as Coach Nolan's defensive coordinator before taking over as head coach, but this year the Trojans have a ways to go on that side of the ball. As was the case in both of their preseason scrimmages, they gave up a number of big plays and well over 400 yards. To be sure, much of that is to CJ's credit--they have quite a bit of speed, and they're well coached--but they were helped along by plenty of missed tackles. There's good news on this front, however. The first bit is that the Trojans made plays they needed when they needed them. The second bit is that defensive coordinator Charlie Burgbacher--head coach Matt's dad--has been in this coaching business for a long time with a ton of success, and I have every confidence that Troy's defense will grow by leaps and bounds and the season plays out.

So! After one game, the Trojans can officially finish no worse than they did last year, and the Miami Valley has been put on notice that the 2015 Trojans are not the 2014 Trojans. This team is going to be fun to watch. Next week they'll they'll play their first Friday game against Cincinnati Northwest. It'll be good to get back into the friendly confines of Troy Memorial Stadium and see how these new-look Trojans react to playing on their own home turf.

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