Each week, I’ll (hopefully) talk to a beat writer who covers Duke’s opponent. Today, we are joined by Jeremy Wise, who covers Troy for the Dothan (Ala.) Eagle. You can follow Jeremy on Twitter here and read more of his work here. I also did a Q&A for his blog— you can find that here.
Now onto the questions:
1. So Troy was a 2.5-point underdog last week and went to the University of Alabama-Birmingham and lost by 38 points (48-10). How surprised were you by the result, and, if you had to pick one reason the debut for the Trojans went so poorly, what would it be?
I think everyone in the entire state of Alabama was shocked by the result. Troy had won three straight against UAB, and most recent games in the series have been decided by just a few points. For Troy people, taking such a bad loss might be like Duke getting hammered by North Carolina by 35 in basketball.
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A few reasons exist as to why everything went poorly, but the main one would be the youthfulness of the Trojan team. A lot of guys in several positions have a good amount of playing experience, but quite a few were making their first starts. Offensively, the Trojans have had a very competitive quarterback battle on their hands, but the two guys who played (Brandon Silvers and Dontreal Pruitt) had never played a down on the FBS level. Some nerves had to play a role in the offense bogging down.
Defensively, the squad has been known to struggle against the pass, but UAB gashed them on the run, which was very surprising. I think inexperience played a role there, too. The Trojans had several defensive linemen graduate, and defensive end Jadarius Garner passed away in January, so that unit had a lot of holes to fill. Most of the guys who played have a good bit of experience, but again, some were making their first starts.
2. What have some of the other points of emphasis been in practice this week?
One point I think Trojans head coach Larry Blakeney will be emphasizing is physicality, especially defensively. Troy missed a bunch of tackles against UAB, so I know that is one thing that unit will be trying to correct. Offensively, Troy was 5-of-16 on third downs but came up a half-yard short here and there on several of the conversion opportunities. Offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield said if the Trojans clean up a few things (blocks, right reads, etc.), the unit should be better in that stat category moving forward.
3. Replacing a four-year starting quarterback is never easy. How is life after Corey Robinson shaping up for the Trojans?
I do believe Troy has some good talent to replace Robinson, and I think in the long-term Silvers may launch an assault on some of Robinson's records. Troy's wide receivers are good this year, and the coaches always seem to reload that position every single year.
For now, Silvers and Pruitt are still "young" in FBS experience, so I don't think the Troy offense will be as prolific as it has been, especially in the first few weeks of the season. I like Pruitt's playmaking ability, and Edenfield said he hopes to get the first-team JUCO All-American a few more snaps this week. Silvers and Pruitt have plenty of playmakers to turn to for help, and if the Trojans get any momentum in the running game, they can score -- a lot.
4. What is the strongest unit on this team?
I think it has to be the wide receivers. This unit is fairly deep, and a healthy Chandler Worthy paired with Bryan Holmes gives them the pair of breakout performers that make all defensive coordinators sweat. Inside, K.D. Edenfield (the offensive coordinator's son) has loads of experience, and JUCO transfer Teddy Ruben has plenty of speed to burn. All four receiving positions have physical receivers to back them up, giving the Trojans all sorts of packages and combinations they can, and will, use.
5. Give me one player in particular to watch out on the field this weekend.
It would be easy to say either of the quarterbacks, and certainly their performances will either keep Troy in the game this week or let Duke run away. That said, I am going to say free safety Montres Kitchens will need to have a good game. I expect he'll be asked to sit on top of the coverage to try to prevent Duke's very talented receivers from burning the Trojans. He had a fairly solid game last week, earning his first pick and leading the team in tackles with eight.
Thanks again to Jeremy for his time.