Following a costly win against Georgia State on Thursday, the Troy football team heads to Lynchburg, Virginia, to face the Liberty Flames despite missing some of its key pieces.
Head Coach Neal Brown revealed on Monday that Kaleb Barker is out for the season and Tron Folsom is questionable for Saturday’s non-conference matchup.
“The win came with cost,” Brown said. “Kaleb Barker tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament); he’ll be out for the season.
“He’s going to have surgery on Friday. I hate it for him. I think his first quarter on Thursday night was probably — and we’ve had a bunch of good quarterbacks — but probably as good as any quarterback has played in my eight years here.”
Brown said the Trojan offense is a “plug-n-go” system.
“All that is going to change is Sawyer’s (Smith) the starter now, and Gunnar (Watson) is going to be No. 2,” Brown said. “We strongly believe, because of situations like this, in getting our No. 2 quarterback ready.
“Sawyer has played in every game we’ve had this year and has had success. He’s played in a number of games as a true freshman and had success. Gunnar got in the game in the fourth quarter against FAMU and did a good job, and he will get and have some opportunities in this game on Saturday against Liberty. It’s just plug-n-play, and we are not changing what we are doing. Our team and our coaching staff have a ton of confidence both in Sawyer and in Gunnar.”
Junior outside linebacker Tron Folsom came down with a concussion during Thursday’s game, making his play this coming Saturday questionable. The Trojans expect to have the defensive leader back within the month, but Brown and staff are ready to fill the role.
“I think it is a disadvantage anytime you don’t have one of your better players,” Brown said. “AJ Smiley came in and played his best that he has ever played on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s been a great special teams contributor for us and kind of a backup role on defense, but he came in on defense and played really well. We do have some depth at those linebacker positions where we can move some guys around, and we will miss Tron, but we feel like the next guy will step up and be productive.”
Despite the injuries, the Trojans look to build on their five-game win streak against a first-year Division I program. The Flames made the jump to FBS play this year, playing as an independent for the time being and receiving bowl eligibility next season.
The Flames (2-3) have split the previous two weeks with New Mexico and New Mexico State, topping New Mexico in a 52-43 shootout before falling to the previous Sun Belt member 49-41.
Junior Stephen Calvert is Liberty’s top passer, throwing for 1,656 yards and 12 scores. Calvert has thrown for nearly 700 more yards than Troy’s Barker but has rushed for a net of -71 yards, proving he is a comfortable passer in the pocket.
Antonio Gandy-Golden is expected to be Calvert’s favorite target, as he has been all season. The junior receiver has 32 catches for 497 yards, outpacing every receiver for the Trojans. Troy’s B.J. Smith’s 473 yards on the ground outpaces Liberty’s Frankie Hickson. The Lynchburg native is the Flames’ leading rusher, picking up 155 yards in Saturday’s loss to New Mexico State.
The Trojans will take the field in Lynchburg at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The matchup will be broadcast on ESPN3.