Under the lights: First place is on the line when the Trojans play the Red Wolves on a national stage
Published 3:00 am Thursday, November 17, 2016
The 25th ranked Troy Trojans put their undefeated conference record on the line this evening when they take on the Arkansas State Red Wolves in front of a national television audience.
The Trojans (8-1, 5-0) face a Red Wolves (5-4, 5-0) team that has won 14 straight Sun Belt Conference games.
“Arkansas State is the defending conference champion,” said Troy head coach Neal Brown. “They are the team to beat in the Sun Belt Conference. They are the champions until someone defeats them, and they are playing their best football of the year right now.”
The Red Wolves began the year on a four-game losing streak, but since then have rattled off five straight conference wins to give them a share of first place.
“They were 0-4 coming off a loss to Central Arkansas, “Brown said. “I think it speaks really highly of Blake Anderson and his staff to get them off the mat and put five wins in a row together and to keep improving.”
The Trojan defense will have to contend with an Arkansas State offense that has averaged 26 points per game led by their sophomore quarterback Justice Hansen. The sophomore has completed 58 percent of his passes and has thrown 12 touchdowns.
“He is a guy that I am very familiar with,” Brown said. “When I was coordinator at Texas Tech we recruited him really hard. As they have chosen him as the starter, he has gotten more comfortable and they have played better offensively.”
Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers has seen a steady climb in his production over the last four games. He is averaging 274 yards over that span, but he will ace a defense that is allowing less than 230 yards per game. The Red Wolves have also forced 21 turnovers.
“What they do better than anybody is creating turnovers. They have turned people over better than anyone in the country. They are very talented up front. They have two humongous guys on the defensive line, and they have the best pass rusher in our league.”
Last week 27,782 fans packed Veterans Memorial Stadium with its largest ever Sun Belt Conference game crowd.
“I want to challenge our students and our fans to turn out,” Brown said. “This has the makings to be as big of a game as we have ever played in our Division I history. We need everyone to come out and support our team, but also see a great college football game.”
Four of the top 15 crowds in Veterans Memorial Stadium history have come this season. Troy would need a crowd this evening of 14,271 to set the overall single-season attendance record.
“We have a great core that shows up through thick and thin,” Brown said. “We have a huge alumni base that aren’t all showing up for a football game. I hope that that fringe fan that doesn’t follow us each and every week comes into the stadium. Once they come, they are going to recognize what kind of game day atmosphere we have, and they are going to continue to come.”
Both the Trojans and the Red Wolves will have to contend with a late 8:30 kickoff.
“I am worried about the coaches more than I am about the players,” Brown said. “8:30 is about the time that they get kicking. We move our pregame back and move them around a little bit more. Our players will be ready to go.”