By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — The last time that Troy University ventured into Kidd Brewer Stadium, the Trojans and Saturday afternoon’s opponent Appalachian State had established themselves as powerhouses in what was then called NCAA I-AA football.
Troy was ranked No. 2 in the I-AA polls and the Mountaineers sat at No. 4 for a Sept. 9, 2000 showdown contest between teams that hadn’t met in 30 years.
The Trojans held off a late Appalachian rally for its 34-28 victory, but ASU turned the tide two-and-a-half months later with a 33-30 overtime win in the first round of the playoffs — the triumph sending Troy into the I-A ranks and vaulting the Mountaineers eventually into the I-AA semifinals.
Over the next decade, TU established itself as one of the few success stories for programs making the move from what is now called the Football Championship Subdivision up to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
But as last year’s season-changing, 53-14 road victory by Appalachian proved, these are now teams who have been heading in opposite directions.
While the Mountaineers (6-1 overall, 3-0 in the Sun Belt Conference) have quickly established themselves as the team to beat in their new league, the Trojans (2-5, 1-2) have fallen on hard times after compiling seven winning seasons in their first 11 years at the FBS.
After winning, or sharing in Sun Belt championships every year from 2006 to 2010 Troy has seen its fortunes bottom out with but one .500 record since. The Trojans went 3-9 in 2014, the final year of Larry Blakeney’s 24-run as coach.
Troy is now rebuilding under first-year coach Neal Brown and may have turned a corner last week with its 52-7 win at winless New Mexico State (0-7, 0-3).
“Troy is certainly capable of coming in here and playing a good football game,” said ASU coach Scott Satterfield. “This is maybe one of the top two defenses in the Sun Belt. They are playing a lot faster on defense than they did last season.”
TU piled up a season-best 482 yards of total offense last week. It was the first time the Alabama-based squad had gone over 400 yards all season.
The return of quarterback Brandon Silvers from a concussion and sprained ankle was important. Silvers is third in the Sun Belt in passing efficiency, with 1,046 yards and nine TDs this season.
Silvers threw for 288 yards and five touchdowns at New Mexico State.
The Trojans were competitive in two other Sun Belt games, losing 24-18 to South Alabama and 19-16 to Idaho at home earlier this month after dropping non-conference games at North Carolina State (49-21), Wisconsin (28-3) and Mississippi State (45-17).
Troy’s other win came against a ranked FCS opponent, Charleston Southern, 44-16.
The Trojans have established themselves as one of the top defensive teams in the Sun Belt, allowing 27 points per game and 378 yards of total offense (good for 68th and 56th, respectively in FBS), but have struggled on offense, ranking 117th in yards gained in the country.
But TU hopes to catch Appalachian at the most opportune of times, with the Mountaineers coming off their emotional, 31-13 victory at home against arch-rival Georgia Southern last week — a win that earned ASU six points in the Associated Press Top-25 balloting this week, good for 33rd place.
“It is a little bit tougher, coming off a big-time rivalry game, but we are focused on what we are doing a little bit better than we were last year,” ASU linebacker and leading tackler John Law said.
Unlike most of Appalachian’s opponents, which have stacked the box in mostly futile attempts to slow down a Mountaineer rushing attack that ranks 10th nationally, the Trojans will give ASU more of a balanced look from their base 4-3 set and will bring plenty of pressure, particularly on third-down situations.
That will require sophomore quarterback Taylor Lamb to be more precise on his reads and will force the ASU offensive line to be at their best to protect him.
Appalachian used big plays to thwart the Trojans last year, starting a string that has seen the Mountaineers win 11 of their past 12 games over two seasons.
Marcus Cox rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries and Ricky Ferguson came off the bench to pile up 107 yards with just 10 touches. Even Lamb got into the act on the ground with eight carries for 98 yards and Terrence Upshaw added 82 yards with 11 rushing attempts.
Still, the Mountaineers are wary of the Trojans.
“This is going to be a very tough football game,” said ASU defensive coordinator Nate Woody. “I’m not concerned that we won’t play hard against Troy. But we’re not overlooking Troy.”