In a very rare match-up on a Tuesday night, the seventh annual Battle for the Belt took place between the Troy Trojans and the South Alabama Jaguars. For the Jaguars, they were trying to account for their 3rd win of the season in eight games. The Trojans were trying to rebound after their rough loss to the Liberty Flames on October 13th. That was the first game of the Trojans starting Sawyer Smith at quarterback, due to an ACL tear to Kaleb Barker the week before. Both teams needed the extra time to rest and plan with so many injuries on both sides of the ball. Last year, the Jaguars shocked the Trojans with a 19-8 score despite Troy coming off an upset over LSU. Despite a tough match-up for both teams in this game, the Troy Trojans take the belt from South Alabama Jaguars 38-17.
Troy Takes The Belt From South Alabama
Trojans Grabbed The Early Lead and Never Looked Back
Troy had an explosive offensive night that consisted of long duration drives and long explosive plays. In the 1st quarter, the Trojans accounted for 226 total offensive yards and 16 points against this Jaguars defense. There were four plays where Troy accounted for 15-yards or more including two passes of 30-yards and 44-yards from Smith to wide receiver Damion Willis and a 56-yard run from running back B.J. Smith. In the 2nd quarter, the Trojans accounted for 339 total yards and 15 more points. While Troy’s offense slowed the tempo and their assertiveness in the 2nd half, the defense stepped up in their presence. In the 2nd half, South Alabama couldn’t get a drive going or made critical mistakes. In five drives in the second half, South missed a 40-yard field and Troy accounted for two interceptions in opposing territory.
South Alabama suffered an unlucky situation where their best player on defense in safety Nigel Lawrence was ejected from targeting. In the 3rd play from scrimmage, Lawrence was trying to make an extra hit on Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith in a designed run when he aimed low while Smith was basically down. Lawrence was tossed almost immediately after a quick review and South lost their best player and a great leader. Later in the 2nd quarter, the Jags also lost defensive tackle Jeffery Whatley due to an unnecessary targeting call. Jags head coach Steve Campbell mentioned in the press conference after the game that they had to make serious adjustments regardless of the ejections from the two key defensive players.
Trojans Offense Too Much For Jaguars Defense
The Trojans were not concerned with the performance of Sawyer Smith in his first start of his career against Liberty. Despite the loss, head coach Neal Brown said he feels that Smith will get better with each game he starts and plays. This was evident on Tuesday night as he led a hungry Trojans offense to account for 410 total offensive yards. Smith was very efficient with his passes as he threw for nine completions (in 16 attempts), 158 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Smith was more efficient leading the offense in the RPO (run-pass-option) system as he made solid plays and rushed for a touchdown. Wide receiver Damion Willis was dynamic as a play designed screen receiver and as a deep route runner. Willis accounted for five receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
The running game led by B.J. Smith and the offensive line were consistent against this Jaguars defense. Smith ran the ball 22 times for 170 yards for an average of 7.7 yards per rush and a touchdown. The offensive line created huge holes up the middle for Smith and other backs to run through. At times, South Alabama’s defense was easily predictable and often times simple-minded. Late in the first quarter, South had the Trojans on their own five yard line and sent a huge blitz from the Trojans’ offensive tackle to tackle. That second and seven turned into a 56-yard run as Smith moved towards the sidelines with no defender there. That next drive, wide receiver Deondre Douglas ran 61-yards off of a jet sweep. The Trojans offensive line allowed no sacks and only four tackles for loss from the Jaguars defense.
The Defense For Troy Held Their Own
Troy’s defense was just as efficient as their high scoring offense against the South Alabama Jaguars. South Alabama did account for 110 rushing yards (157 net yards) but they ran the game 45 times. This is an average of 2.4 yards per rush that the Jaguars account for against the Trojans’ stout defense. Jaguars running back Tra Minter was the only player for South to make any damage on the ground against Troy. Minter accounted for 101 net yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries with his longest rush being 22-yards. There were many stars of the Troy Trojans defense but overall, this was a complete team display at work of their 36th ranked rushing defense. Linebacker Tron Folsom accounted for 14 total tackles, 10 solo tackles, one-and-a-half tackles for loss, and half a sack.
Defensive tackle Will Choloh accounted for five total tackles, four solo tackles, three tackles for loss, and two sacks. Bandit linebacker Hunter Reese was another player who was consistent in the backfield but he disrupted more of the Jaguars offensive schemes and their play setups. He ruined a double reverse play that could’ve ended in a long passing touchdown but resulted in a one yard run from Cephus Johnson. Reese ended the night with five total tackles, a sack, and a tackle for loss. Overall, the Trojans defense accounted for four sacks, seven tackles for loss, and three interceptions. Safety Cedarius Rookard (88-yards) and cornerback Terrance Dunlap (60-yards) almost returned their interceptions for a touchdown. Jaguars quarterback Evan Orth played well in deciding many of his passes but often panicked. Orth threw for 18 completions (out of 29 attempts), 275 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Trojans and Jaguars Moving Forward
The South Alabama Jaguars (2-6; 1-3 in Sun Belt play) will travel to face the Arkansas State Red Wolves (4-3) on November 3rd. The Jaguars are looking to make one last push to become bowl eligible with only four games left in the regular season. The Troy Trojans (6-2; 4-0 in Sun Belt play) are very much alive for a bowl and are on top of the Sun Belt East division. The Trojans will host the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns (3-4) on November 3rd. Both the Jaguars and the Trojans will have more time to rest up and heal any potential injuries. Trojans wide receiver Deondre Douglas suffered an ankle injury after his 61-yard yard run against South.