Troy treating every game as a ‘Ring Game’

Published 12:24 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

The Troy Trojans came into 2023 with the goal of getting back to the Sun Belt Championship and with just five games left in the 2023 season they’re treating every game as a ‘Ring Game.’

The Trojans are coming off a bye week, heading into a road matchup with the Texas State Bobcats as both teams are currently locked in a three-way tie for first place in the Sun Belt West with South Alabama, Troy’s opponent next week.

“All these conference games, we call them ‘Ring Games.’ If we want to get to a championship we have to win every one of them,” Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson said. “We control our destiny and we can do it.”

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Troy defensive end Javon Solomon reiterated Watson’s views.

“Every game is a ‘Ring Game.’ We have five conference games left,” Solomon continued. “If we want to meet our end goal – a championship – we have to take every game here on very serious.

“I’m not worrying about anyone other than Texas State right now. That’s the mindset and the whole (coaching) staff really pushes that on us, focusing on the task at hand.”

That task this week will not be an easy one as Texas State boasts one of the top offenses in the conference. The Bobcats are first in scoring, first in total offense, second in rushing offense and third in passing offense.

“They’re somewhat similar to playing Western Kentucky, style wise,” Troy Coach Jon Sumrall said. “They want to run 200 plays a game and they challenge you and make you defend every blade of grass. They do some things kind of like Baylor used to do that stress you out from a defensive standpoint.”

One of the biggest challenges is Texas State quarterback TJ Finley, an Auburn transfer. Finley’s 1,941 passing yards ranks second in the conference and his 14 touchdowns are tied for third. At 6-foot-7-inches and 255 pounds, Solomon compared Finley’s size to that of a defensive end rather than a quarterback.

“He’s a great quarterback, great size and very big,” Solomon said of Finley. “He has an amazing arm and I think he takes control of their offense very well, especially with their tempo.

“It will definitely be a task to slow him down and give him different looks. I think that’s the main thing. He’s a big guy, so we have to make sure we get him to the ground when we have the chance. He’s more like a defensive end, my size.”

Sometimes the best defense against an up-tempo offense is an effective offense and Troy boasts one of the most efficient and effective offenses in the conference, as well. The Trojans boast the No. 3 rushing offense in the conference and the nation’s leading rusher in Kimani Vidal, while the Troy passing offense is also ranked fifth in the conference. Still, Sumrall sees a number of things he wants to see improvement on, especially red-zone scoring.

“We have been awful,” Sumrall said of scoring touchdowns in the red-zone. “We’re better than we were last year (at this point) but last year we were turning the ball over too much in the red-zone. We’re scoring too many dang field goals right now. We need to score touchdowns in the red-zone.

“We need to improve scoring on offense. We’re up almost 90 yards per game in total offense. Our offense is moving the ball but we have to finish drives better.”

Troy may get some help from some injured players returning to the lineup, as well. Sumrall said that tight end Ethan Conner could potentially return to the lineup this week and that linebacker Steven Cattledge is also getting close to being able to return. Regardless, he pinpointed some other players that he’d like to see have a bigger role on offense moving forward.

“I think there are a couple of things personnel wise we can do to highlight some guys,” Sumrall said. “Peyton Higgins needs to grow his role and Landon Parker’s role needs to grow, as well. We can do some things (in different personnel packages) that can help us.”

Troy plays at Texas State on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. in a game that will stream on ESPN+.