Game Preview: Trojans hungry to snap losing streak

Published 1:10 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

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For the first time in the Jon Sumrall era, the Troy Trojans (1-2) are coming into a game on a losing streak as Troy gets set to face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2-1) this Saturday.

Troy lost a heartbreaker to JMU last week and after the game, Sumrall had a message to fans.

“We’ve got to look in the mirror – everyone does – and it starts with me,” Sumrall emphasized. “I didn’t prepare our guys well enough to play the game the right way, I didn’t coach well enough for our guys to win. Hats off to JMU for playing a good, clean football game and we also earned the loss. We didn’t do what it takes to put ourselves in position to win that kind of game.

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“My heart breaks for the young men in that locker room. I care about them like family because they are (family). I would like to apologize to our fans. I know that it’s tough on them to watch (that) and I am grateful for our fan base. I ask them to bear with us, this isn’t where we want to be. I don’t make any excuses but I ask (the fans) to stay behind our guys. They’re putting in the work. If you want to criticize someone, criticize me. I’m a big boy, I can take it.”

Now, the Trojans must turn their attention to Western Kentucky, who is coming off a 63-10 loss to No. 4 Ohio State last week. Quarterback Austin Reed has thrown for 796 yards and seven touchdowns in the Hilltoppers’ first three games.

“They’re a really good football team, and very athletic with one of the better quarterbacks in college football in Austin Reed,” Sumrall said. “He has a huge arm and can make all the throws and is accurate and a better runner than people give him credit for.”

Defensively, Sumrall said that the WKU size stands out.

“Their outside linebacker – edge rusher – is as good as we’ve seen – and may see – all year,” he said. “They’re really big up front. These guys stick out with their size. They also have some good secondary guys, too. This is a good challenge for us. I think (Western Kentucky) is one of the premier Group of 5 teams in all of college football.”

Coming into last week, Kimani Vidal was among the nation’s leaders in rushing but Troy managed -12 yards rushing with Vidal tallying just 27 yards on the ground.

“Last week we felt like there were things in the pass game that were to be had,” Sumrall said. “Every week is a different game plan on how to win the game and we felt like there were things in the throw game with our matchups at receiver but we can’t lose sight of the fact that (Vidal) is (Vidal) and is one of the best players on our team and has to get the football.

“We will make sure to get him involved somehow. When you have a great player who is also one of your hardest workers and best people on your team you have to make sure to figure how to get him enough touches to be effective in the game. I don’t think we held up on the line of scrimmage well enough and also probably abandoned the running game a little early. It was probably a combination of our plan and the fact that we didn’t play well enough up front to move them and create running lanes consistently and didn’t call enough runs to get in rhythm.”

Last week saw the return of All-Sun Belt defensive end TJ Jackson from suspension and this week Jackson is expected to earn his first start. Former JUCO All-American Raymond Cutts also returned from injury last week.

“It’s good to have him back,” Sumrall said of Jackson. “He was first-team all-conference and when he came back (from suspension) I sent him over to the scout team for about three weeks. He didn’t go over there and mope around, he went over there and wrecked shop. Raymond Cutts is back, too, and I think our defensive line has good depth and I like the pieces we have there.”

Linebacker Steven Cattledge, who suffered a leg injury against Kansas State, is not expected to return from injury this week.

Last season, the Trojan defeated WKU 34-27. This will be the 14th total time the two schools have met with Troy holding a 10-2-1 record. The two sides met annually from 2007 until 2013 with Troy holding the edge in that series 6-2. Troy will host Western Kentucky at 11 a.m. in a game that will air nationally on ESPNU.