Last Season: 10-3 (7-1)
Head Coach: Chip Lindsey – 1st year (former Auburn OC)
Overall Record: 0-0
School Record: 0-0
Offensive Coordinator: Ryan Pugh – 1st year (former BYU OL coach)
Defensive Coordinator: Brandon Hall – 1st year (former Troy STC/OLB coach)
Last Game Against Mizzou: 2005 at Faurot Field, lost 52-21
This Year: Faurot Field – Columbia, MO – October 5th, TBD
Projected Overall S&P+ Rank: 69th (nice)
Projected Offensive S&P+ Rank: 94th
Projected Defensive S&P+ Rank: 42nd
Returning Production: 67% – 59% Offense, 76% Defense (41st in the nation)
Offensive Players to Watch
-Kaleb Barker – QB – SR: 92-126 (73%)/1,013 yards/10 TDs/2 INTs/13 sacks/6.6 ypa
-44 rushes/357 yards/3 TDs/8.1 ypc/47.7% OPP rate/0 fumbles
-B.J. Smith – RB – SR: 219 rushes/1,186 yards/13 TDs/5.42 ypc/44.3% OPP rate/3 fumbles
-16 targets/9 catches (56.3%)/105 yards/0 TDs/11.7 ypc/6.6 tpt/4.5% tr
-Tray Eafford – WR – JR: 38 targets/24 catches (63.2%)/292 yards/3 TDs/12.2 ypc/7.7 ypt/10.7% tr
Defensive Players to Watch
-Jarvis Hayes – DE – SR: 32 tackles/22 solo/10.5 TFLs/4.5 sacks/0 INTs/0 PBUs/0 FFs/32.8% HAVOC
-Carlton Martial – MLB – SO: 51 tackles/30 solo/8.5 TFLs/3 sacks/0 INTs/1 PBU/3 FFs/24.5% HAVOC
-Melvin Tyus – SS – SR: 42 tackles/27 solo/2 TFLs/0 sacks/1 INTs/2 PBUs/0 FFs/11.9% HAVOC
Every team in every season of every sport has an opponent that they think they don’t have to worry about. No matter the age of the players or the discrepancy in talent, there comes a point in every season where the fans and even the players go, “Yeah, we got this.” It’s what coaches all over the globe constantly fight against, and it’s why Nick Saban and his Disrespect Machine (patent pending) is essentially at full blast from the first snap of the Alabama spring game. The college games, in particular, offer a unique opportunity of talent discrepancy, wherein you can play teams that are technically at your level but without your resources, or you quietly shell out thousands of dollars in an invisible black market to horde a treasure trove of talent to give your team a short-lived boost at the possible expense of being blackballed. There are even levels below your tier with even fewer resources and depth, and you can play them too! It’s why upsets in college basketball are tremendously fun and those in college football are historically epic. When Appalachian State takes down mighty Michigan, we notice. When North Dakota State runs a ball control clinic in the 4th quarter against Kansas State, we notice. When the MAC’s Akron beats a Big 10 team for the first time, we notice. And when Louisiana-Monroe takes down Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide, we definitely notice. Hundreds of games are scheduled between Power 5 schools and Group of 5 or FCS schools, and most of the time, the P5 school gets the win. So, when the opposite is in the process of happening, the sport’s hive mind stops whatever they are doing and starts pulling for the little guy to complete the upset. It’s all incredibly enthralling and engaging and defines what this sport can be— just pure, riotous, nonsensical fun.
Unless it happens to your team.
From the Associated Press in Troy, Alabama on September 10th, 2004:
TROY, Ala. (AP) -- Wide receivers throwing touchdown passes. Offensive linemen scoring. A blocked punt. Troy used gadgets, luck and guts to rally from a horrible start and upset No. 19 Missouri 24-14 Thursday night. ”We don’t have to beat them 365 days,” Trojans coach Larry Blakeney said. “We just have to beat them for one 60-minute segment of history. For that one 60 minutes, Troy was better than Missouri.” Jason Samples threw one touchdown pass and caught another and offensive lineman Junior Louissaint scored on a 63-yard fumble recovery for Troy (2-0). The Trojans, a fourth-year Division I-A program, had never hosted a BCS conference team to visit Troy and were 0-6 against Big 12 teams. The fans stormed the field and pulled down a goal post as Missouri players slumped to the locker room.
IT STILL SUCKS.
I’m sure a good portion of you were not even paying attention back in 2004, but for us old geezers, this one stung. In 2004, Missouri was poised to make a run at the Big XII Championship powered by preseason Heisman-candidate, Brad Smith. We had a dynamite defense lead by end Brian Smith, and an overhauled offense featuring a “pocket passing” version of Brad. High rankings, conference championship visions… all destroyed in one game when some dude named Demarcus Ware took a wrecking ball to our o-line and Troy pulled a Boise State and gadget-play-ed us to death.
Fast forward 15 years and here we are: a promising team with lots of returning pieces looking to make a run at the division (postseason ban aside) and going up against a Troy team that also has lots of experience and is fresh off of an incredible run that included beating LSU at LSU, Nebraska at Nebraska, and winning 31 games and 3 bowls in 3 years. Now, they did all of that with Neal Brown as head coach, and I’ve obviously taken the deep dive into his career in our West Virginia preview. And since he was in my West Virginia preview, that means there’s a new head coach leading the Trojans which, if we’re being transparent, should give Missouri fans a legitimate case for breathing easier, albeit slightly.
Chip Lindsey was last seen being the scapegoat for all of Auburn’s offensive issues in his time as offensive coordinator from 2017-2018. He’s had successful stints at Arizona State and Southern Miss before then but - as it goes at Auburn - the boosters have the most unrealistic view of what their team can be and fully believed that Lindsey just didn’t understand Head Coach Gus Malzahn’s offensive system. He left to become Kansas’ new offensive coordinator under Les Miles for about a month before taking the Troy job, and so begins his first stint as the head coach of a college program (he was previously a high school head coach for two years). Now, we Tiger fans have seen just how difficult it can be to have someone learn how to be a head coach at your school. Also take into consideration that his offensive coordinator, Ryan Pugh, and his defensive coordinator, Brandon Hall, have never been coordinators at any of their previous jobs— only position coaches. That’s a lot of new experience to break in all at once, and while I’m sure all three are well-qualified and can excel at their new positions, I’d rather have to go up against someone brand new in their role rather than a veteran of even two or three years.
The type of offense Lindsey and Pugh will install is up in the air; Lindsey has a lot of power spread-option a la Malzahn, and Pugh comes from a more deliberate spread style via UTSA and BYU. Last year, the Trojans ranked 89th in offense running a modified air-raid style, so really, they can go in a lot of different directions. Whatever they decide to do, working on efficiency would go a long way— last year they were 94th in success rate (getting half the yards needed per down), but 12th (!) in explosiveness. Essentially, you would hem them in down after down until they eventually broke free, and when they did, it was going a long, long way. That’s great for entertainment value but difficult for reliability. Part of that has to do with juggling QBs: Kaleb Barker beat out Sawyer Smith in fall camp, but was injured against Georgia State and was lost for the season. Smith took over for the rest of the year, but was much less accurate and more interception-prone than Barker and the passing game tended to stall out. Barker is back - as is their top three running backs - from a rushing attack that ranked 100th in the nation, so ideally they’d like to see some new talent come in. The run game should improve regardless, since they only lose one starter on the line and return 3 starters with All-Sun Belt honors. But the pressure will be on the running backs early since Troy loses 3 of their top 4 receivers, with walk-on Tray Eafford and his 292 yards being the most returning production. If the ground game can help carry the offense while the new receivers acclimate themselves, this could be a competent offense to go up against by the time we hit October 5th.
Neal Brown’s Troy teams were known for their offense, but it was always the defense that made them so dangerous. They ranked 48th in overall defense, 14th against the run, 39th against the pass, and did a tremendous job of attacking on standard downs to throw you off-course early in the possession. And that unit returns 76% of their production going into this year! Specifically, they lose one starting d-lineman, two linebackers, a starting safety and a cornerback. Again, breaking in a new DC who has never done this before helps, but these guys weren’t great by scheme alone, and they all have a lot of experience going against P5 talent. We have to hope that a deeper talent pool can exploit some opportunities that Dooley and Bryant can take advantage of. Because when your weakness was, “you didn’t stuff the run as well on passing downs,” you’re in pretty good shape overall.
Because I am a lifelong Missouri fan, I don’t believe that any game is an easy win. I have been tricked by that line of thinking too many times to count, and knowing what Troy has done in the very recent past does not give me any encouragement of thinking otherwise. Now, you can, of course, point to the fact that Missouri detonated Troy in 2005, 52-21 in Columbia, but as Larry Blakeney poignantly said above, “We just have to beat them for one 60-minute segment of history.” Troy has shown they can do that, but Chip Lindsey and friends have not. If you’re looking for optimism, cling to that. But do not overlook the Trojans. Is there a Demarcus Ware on this iteration of Troy? We don’t know! We might find out during the game that there are two of them (gasp)! Can a new coaching staff take a new team to Faurot Field and beat the crap out of an overconfident Tiger squad? Yes, they can! Just ask Jeff Brohm and the Purdue staff! Where will the Tigers’ mindset be after the South Carolina game? Will they be able to stay focused against what will be an agonizingly tough defense? This certainly isn’t a must win for any of the realistic goals for this year’s squad, but I need to see Odom and the Tigers beat the stuffing out of this team to maintain any good feelings that have built up over the first 4 weeks of the year. Beat Troy like we beat Memphis last year and we’ll be able to reassess how to think about the 2019 Tigers.