Battle for the top spot: Troy versus Arkansas State

Scott Watkins

Staff Writer

The Troy football team will play with a number by its name for the first time when it hosts the Arkansas State Red Wolves on Thursday night.

After Troy’s pivotal win against Appalachian State last week, the Trojans earned the No. 25 spot in the AP Poll and became the first Sun Belt team to ever receive a national ranking.

Arkansas State comes in on a five-game win streak and an undefeated conference record that matches Troy’s.

Led by junior quarterback Brandon Silvers, the Troy offense is leading the Sun Belt in scoring average with 38 points per game. Junior running back Jordan Chunn is the center of that offense, and he averages a conference-high 114 rushing yards per game.

With Chunn’s success, defenses are loading the box in hopes of slowing him down and leaving cornerbacks with little help in pass defense.

Receivers Deondre Douglas and Emmanuel Thompson each have five receiving touchdowns. Together, their ten is more than any other catching combo in the conference.

For the season, Arkansas State’s defense is seventh in the Sun Belt in total defense. However, the Red Wolves have allowed 345 yards per game during their current win streak, a number that would rank second in the conference now.

The success of Arkansas State’s defense can be attributed to its front seven’s ability to get into the backfield. The defense has registered 46 tackles for loss through the last five games, averaging 9.2 per game.

Arkansas State has a pair of defensive lineman, Ja’Von Rolland-Jones and Chris Odom, with more sacks than any other duo in the Sun Belt with 14.5 for the season.

Offensively, Arkansas State has had a balanced approach that relies on the run game opening up the passing game under sophomore quarterback Justice Hansen.

Hansen, a former four-star recruit, hit his stride recently, throwing for 772 yards and six touchdowns in the last six games.

“Their quarterback Hansen is getting better and better,” head coach Neal Brown said at Monday’s press conference. “Since he was chosen as their starter he has gotten more comfortable and they’ve played better offensively.”

The rushing attack has been night and day for the Red Wolves. In its five wins, Arkansas State has averaged 183.6 rushing yards per game, while in its four losses the team is averaging just 80.8 yards per game on the ground.

The success of the offense hinges on whether or not it will be able to run the football against the wall Troy has built on its defensive front. The Trojans are allowing fewer rushing yards per game, 105.4, than any Sun Belt team since Troy’s 2004 team, which allowed just 90 rushing yards per game.

A key factor in Thursday’s game will be the field position battle. In conference play, Troy is averaging 10.7 yards per punt return, while the Red Wolves have allowed 0.75 yards per return.

Considering how each defense has been playing lately, the team with the better average starting field position will have the best chance at winning.

The game will kick off at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium and will be televised on ESPNU. Troy Athletics also announced that the event will be a blackout for fans, with the first 2,500 students entering the stadium receiving free t-shirts.


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