Sun Belt Showdown: Troy Trojans (9-2) vs Arkansas State Red Wolves (7-3)
The Red Wolves want a 6th title in seven seasons. Trojan want a title and revenge.
Trojans @ Wolves, Saturday December 2nd, 6:30 CST at Centennial Bank Stadium, broadcast on ESPN2
When Troy was good, Arkansas State was horrible. When the Red Wolves got good, the Trojans got awful. The twain of the two Sun Belt dynasties seemed destined never to meet, and then Neal Brown arrived to thwart the hand of fate.
Arriving in 2015, Brown threw a vine into the quicksand and pulled the Trojans out of a decade-long funk, delivering a stellar 10-3 season in 2016. But it was the Red Wolves who would spoil the story for Troy, handing the Trojans its first of two conferences losses, denying the program its first championship since 2010.
Now the Trojans want revenge in addition to a title. And what better time to collect both than on the last week of the season, on national TV, in front of rival fans?
When last these titans met
“We took it very, very personally. Top 25, they thought they were already No. 1 in the conference. They felt like they had already won the Sun Belt title.” Chris Odom, Arkansas State DE
‘Twas another nationally televised game, though it was a mid-week affair with the Trojans having just received the Sun Belt’s first AP Top 25 distinction ever. The stars seemed aligned for a Troy victory, with the game played before a zesty home group at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The Red Wolves spotted Troy a field goal and then never looked back, winning 35-3 thanks to 208 rushing yards from the offense and big defensive plays – including a end zone fumble recovery. Red Wolves went on to win a share of the Sun Belt. Troy dropped right out of the Top 25, then later lost to Georgia Southern to end all hopes of a title.
Troy’s defense is a vicious animal
Troy’s defense is on par with any in the nation, having surrendered no more than 24 points to any opponent in 2017. Nationally, the Trojan rank 7th in rushing defense, 2nd in red zone defense, and 17th for total defense. That’s not bad.
You can’t run on the Trojans. You can’t push them around in the red zone. But you can pass a little against Troy, who ranks 41st against the pass, allowing 206 yards per game. Still, Blace Brown and his 4 picks (one for a score) is as dangerous as any CB in the Sun Belt. Verily, there are no real weaknesses on the defense.
If anyone can score on Troy, it’s Arkansas State
No Sun Belt offense is as potent as Arkansas State’s, which is putting up a whopping 40 points per game, 9th best in the nation. The Red Wolves defense gave up 50 points to ULM last Saturday and still won by 17. Justice Hansen and his crew of dynamite wide receivers are tearing apart secondaries, and Warren Wand looks rejuvenated lately at running back, collecting two consecutive 100 yard games.
The Red Wolves rank 14th nationally in total offense, a testament to Hansen’s growth as a QB and coach Blake Anderson’s skill as a play caller. If any team has a shot at cracking Troy’s steel wall, it’s Arkansas State.
Brandon Silvers may finally be Brandon Silvers
Before last Saturday’s game with Texas State, Troy’s excellent quarterback Brandon Silvers had thrown all of seven touchdown passes. Against the Bobcats, Silvers threw four touchdowns on 380 yards passing – by far his finest performance of the year. Silvers was named the preseason Sun Belt First Team QB, and while he has passed for 2,739 yards (3rd best in conference), the scoring just hasn’t been there.
Silvers may be returning to all-conference form just in time to take on the conference’s best QB of the season, Justice Hansen, the only QB who performed better than Silvers in Week 13 (6 total TDs, 520 yards). Should the Red Wolves solve the Trojans D, Silvers will need to feed Deondre Douglas and Emmanuel Thomas enough pigskin pills to keep pace.
Warren “Magic” Wand vs. Jordan “Mega” Chunn
Wand and Chunn aren’t the top rated running backs in the Sun Belt (where did Idaho’s Aaron Duckworth come from?), but they are still two of the most dangerous runners in the conference. Eyes will be on Silvers and Hansen, but the flow of either offense may rely on Chunn and Wand playing up to potential. As we mentioned before, Wand has put together a string of 100-yard performances his last two, rebounding nicely from a midseason injury. Meanwhile, Chunn (who has also missed time due to injury) has had his “mega” moments, but he’s only cracked the 100-yard mark thrice. But one was a 190-yard mega-performance against LSU.
Neither Chunn or Wand will likely hit 190 yards, especially Wand. The Trojans have allowed one 100-yard performance all season, a 112-yard effort way back in Week 4 to Akron’s Warren Ball.
The Red Wolves have six Sun Belt titles. Troy has five. These two programs have worn the Sun Belt Sheriff’s Badge for the majority of the Sun Belt’s existence. Somebody is walking away with the trophy (possibly to be shared with Appalachian State depending on its game with Louisiana). The stakes might even be higher than just glory.
The wiseguys in Vegas give the Red Wolves a 1-point edge, and ESPN FPI gives A-State a 55% chance to win.
Being the home team has its perks.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post reported that Arkansas State won five, not six, Sun Belt titles. The person responsible has been reassigned to cover football at the Arctic Circle.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.