Trojans hope to flip the script on special teams

Published 8:32 pm Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Special teams played a big factor in Troy’s 24-13 loss to Boise state a season ago, and by all accounts it may play a role again this season.

Not much went right for the Trojans offense last season against the Broncos. They put up just 215 yards, had eight offensive penalties, three turnovers and only broke one tackle in over 50 chances.

The defense held the potent Bronco offense to 17 points and kept the Trojans in the game for much of the contest.

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The difference was special teams. The Broncos had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown by Avery Williams just 94 seconds into the game. In all, the Broncos averaged 41.8 yards on kickoff returns and 24.8 yards on punt returns last season.

“They dominated us last year in special teams,” said head coach Neal Brown. “It’s probably where the biggest difference was in the game. They were really good across the board statistically last year. They really out-executed us. It was a wakeup call. They definitely got after us.”

It goes without saying that Brown, along with special team’s coach Brandon Hall, has put an emphasis on the return game this week during practice. Step one will be controlling Williams, who did more than return the early kick for a touchdown last season.

“Their return specialist and starting corner Avery Williams is talented,” Brown said. “He was the special teams player of the week nationally and it was well-deserved. I think he had five returns for 120 yards and he returned a touchdown. He had two huge kick returns and another solid punt return. We have to account for him much better than we did last year. That is going to be a huge factor in the game.”

The Trojans will have weapons of their own on special teams, especially when receiving kicks. The Trojans will have the reigning FWAA and ESPN Freshman All-American Kick returner Marcus Jones, along with redshirt sophomore Jabir Daughtry-Frye and Trojan newcomer Traveon Samuel, who comes to Troy after transferring from Louisville.

All three of those players have a kickoff returned for a touchdown during their careers. Marcus Jones in his freshman season returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, tying the Troy career record.

“We have three guys on our football team that have kickoff returns for touchdowns,” Brown said. “Traveon Samuel did it at Louisville before he transferred here, Jabir Frye did it against New Mexico State and Marcus did it three times a year ago. All three of those guys are going to get opportunities. The thing about this game is the (Joel) Velazquez kid has such a good leg that he kicks it out of the end zone.”

The Trojans would love to be able to flip the script this season and return a kick for a touchdown. However, winning the field position battle will be equally as important.

“Obviously we would like to return a kick for a touchdown,” Brown said. “I think for us, we gave up so much field position. That is a loss. We played so well on defense last year, especially considering the bad field position all day because of how badly we played on special teams. If we return a kick it will be icing on the cake. I just want to play sound football.”

The Trojans will have that chance when they take on the Broncos at 5 p.m. this Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.