Thunderbirds new homecoming foe for Trojans

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 25, 2001

Sports Editor

Troy State will take the field for their 50th homecoming game on Saturday afternoon, but Southern Utah will only be the 19th different opponent the Trojans have faced in the series.

On paper, the Thunderbirds enter this week’s game as perfect fodder for the alumni in attendance. A 1-6 record. They lost last week in a blowout to South Florida, 42-12. They run a ground-orientated option offense, similar to recent Trojans’ homecoming favorite Nicholls State, and they play in a state dominated by BYU (football) and Utah University (basketball).

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With Stockton, Malone and the Jazz also doing their thing in Utah, it’s a wonder the Thunderbirds even get noticed at all.

But head coach C. Ray Gregory has noticed Troy State.

"This will be another huge task for us, a great challenge," Gregory said about this Saturday’s game.

Gregory is in his fifth season as head coach of Southern Utah. As SU’s offensive coordinator also, Gregory lives by what he knows and that’s running the football. His Thunderbirds have claimed the NCAA Division 1-AA rushing title three times in this tenure, including last season’s 7-4 team.

This year the Thunderbirds have struggled, losers of six straight heading into this weekend, including last Saturday’s loss to a team the Trojans are familiar with – fellow 1-A member South Florida. Troy State lost to the Bulls 20-10 last season and like Southern Utah, the Trojans’ defense had problems controlling versatile Bulls’ quarterback Marquel Blackwell.

Blackwell blitzed the Trojans for 273 yard through the air and rushed for 113. Against the Thunderbirds, Blackwell ran for three touchdowns and went 37-of-46 passing for 295 yards in the game.

"South Florida is probably the fastest team we’ve played since I’ve been here," said Gregory.

But Gregory notes the same thing about Troy State.

"Troy is another team that has gifted athletes," he said. "They have a big time quarterback in Brock Nutter and a bunch of receivers who can give you headaches. Defensively, they’re big and strong and fast…they’re all over the place. They probably have speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball that would be comparable to – if not better in some spots – South Florida."

Kickoff for Saturday’s game is at 2 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.