Trojans seek bowl victory over Bobcats

Published 12:33 am Saturday, December 18, 2010

All week long, the Troy Trojans have been visiting famous French landmarks and walking down streets filled with things that can be seen nowhere else in the world.

And while there may be plenty to see and do in New Orleans, Troy is there for one specific reason – to play under the lights of one of the most historic venues in the country, and in the process bring home the program’s second bowl victory.

“This is where we want to be,” Tory head coach Larry Blakeney said.

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“I told our guys, the season is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. We haven’t been perfect this season, and we have had our share of issues to deal with but we got the prize in our hands. We are certainly exciting to be playing in the Superdome again. This is where I think a lot our people wanted us to be.”

This will be the Trojans’ third trip to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, with the first two taking place in 2006 and 2008.

That first trip four years ago resulted in Troy’s first ever bowl victory over the Rice Owls.

While the first two appearances were against Conference USA opponents, things are a bit different this time around, as the Trojans will be taking on a MAC team for the second-straight bowl season in the Ohio University Bobcats.

“New Orleans is kind of like our home away from home,” senior Jerrel Jernigan said.

“It feels like it’s another home game for us. It feels great to be in the position that we are in, but we know we still have a tough job ahead of us. I think everyone wants to end this season the right way.”

Last season, the Trojans fell to Central Michigan in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile.

This will be the first ever meeting between Ohio and Troy, and both will be looking to get a much needed bowl victory.

For the Trojans, this will be their fifth bowl showing in seven seasons, and their third-straight.

However, all Troy has to show for that is the lone win in 2006.

As for Ohio, the Bobcats have also struggled in postseason games, entering its first New Orleans Bowl with a 0-4 record.

Even though Ohio finished with a better overall record than Troy at 8-4, the Trojans clinched its fifth-consecutive Sun Belt Conference title, with a 7-5 record and with a little help from Middle Tennessee, thanks to it’s upset win on the road against FIU, who finished with a 6-6 overall record.

“We did it,” senior wide receiver Jason Bruce said. “We completed the ‘Drive for Five’. That was the main thing on my mind. Middle Tennessee came through to beat FIU. A lot of guys that graduated before wanted us to keep the legacy alive. They wanted us to keep the things going that they started which was winning the conference.”

While the Trojans and the Bobcats may not have met on the field before today’s game, that’s not to say that the two head coaches have not.

For years, both Blakeney and Ohio head coach Frank Solich coached against one another when Solich was head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

While with Nebraska, Solich led his teams to two bowl wins, the Fiesta Bowl in 1999 and the Alamo Bowl the following season.

In January of 2002, Solich and Nebraska lost in the National Championship game to the Miami Hurricanes.

The Blakeney and Solich first met in 2001, and last met in 2003, with a game in between.

Each result was the same, as the Trojans were no match for the Cornhuskers, but this time around, things will be a bit more even.

“Coach Solich is a guy that I highly admire and respect for what he means to college football,” Blakeney said.

“I have known him for quite some time and he is a guy that does things the right way. He has always had his players ready, no matter what the challenge was. And that is what I am expecting from his Ohio team (today).”

A big question for the Trojans going into the game is not whether or not the offense will continue to produce like it has all season, but just which defense will show up at the Superdome.

This season alone, the defense has allowed 372 total points, which is the second most in the program’s history.

A big part of that has been thanks to the amount of faces that have seen time on the field.

Only three Trojans have started all 12 games this season on defense, Xavier Lamb, Daniel Sheffield and Jonathan Massaquoi.

Since the GMAC Bowl game from the 2009 season, the defense has lost 23 players to injury or personal reasons.

But even with so much change over the course of the season, the defense found a way to right the ship, shutting down both Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic in the final two games as both combined to score just 21 points.

That defense will be tested against one of the better running teams in the country, as the Bobcats have averaged close to 170 yards per game on the legs of Vince Davidson and Phil Bates.

“Someone once said, ‘you can’t conquer all of Rome in one night’,” defensive end Jonathan Massaqoui said about the Troy defense.

“But we held together through the good and the bad times this season and finished strong. I’m really at a loss of words for how everything has played out, but hopefully, we are able to carry what we have done in the end of the season over to the bowl game.”

The Trojans will be hoping for the same kind of offensive output it has produced all season long.

Troy was tops in the conference, again, in points scored with nearly 33 points per game, and averaged 441 yards of offense a game.

A good reason why the offense was able to keep up the high-octane form from seasons past was thanks in part to the production of redshirt freshman, Corey Robinson.

The Kentucky-native finished with 3,320 yards and 24 touchdowns, and was honored with the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year Award.

Along with the signal caller, senior wide receiver Jernigan has had another big year for the Trojans. In his final season, Jernigan finished with 1,981 total yards, 774 of which came through on receptions.

Jernigan also currently is second on the team in total points scored with 56, trailing only kicker Michael Taylor, who has 89 entering today’s game.

“It’s been a rough year to say the least,” Robinson said.

“But the last two games were real confidence boosters for us. This team has held together, and I think some of the losses have really helped us out. I think we were really rolling at the end of the season, and that is something that I think everyone is looking to continue in New Orleans.”