Battle for the Belt: Trojans and Jags to face off in front of the nation

Published 12:29 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2023

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The Troy Trojans and South Alabama Jaguars will have the attention of the nation this week, as the annual “Battle for the Belt” will be featured nationally on ESPN2 this Thursday, Nov. 2.

Troy comes into the annual rivalry game on a five-game winning streak, while South Alabama is coming off a frustrating 33-20 loss to Louisiana last week. It’s been an up and down season for the Jags in 2023. After falling to Tulane in the season opener, South Alabama dominated the Big XII’s Oklahoma State 33-7 on Sept. 16. Since then, South Alabama has lost close contests to James Madison and Louisiana and thumped ULM and Southern Miss.

“From what I can see on video, (South Alabama) may be the most talented team we’ll play all year athletically,” Troy Coach Jon Sumrall said. “I have a lot of respect for these guys. I watch them on tape and I’m blown away with how good this roster is. They have the most Senior Bowl preseason watch list players I think of any Group of 5 (team).”

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South Alabama’s offense is ranked fourth in the Sun Belt in scoring and third in total offense, while the rushing offense is ranked fifth and the passing offense is ranked third.

Jaguar Running back LaDamian Webb is ranked sixth in the Sun Belt with 674 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing. Quarterback Carter Bradley is fifth in the conference with 2,156 yards and his 13 touchdowns is sixth in the SBC. Receiver Lacy Caullin leads the entire conference with 957 yards and six touchdowns. No other SBC receiver has more than 691 yards.

The South Alabama defense is ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense, second in total defense, fourth in rush defense and first in pass defense.

The Troy offense comes into the contest ranked ninth in scoring offense, sixth in total offense, sixth in rushing offense and sixth in passing offense. Running back Kimani Vidal is second in the conference in rushing with 994 yards and six touchdowns, while quarterback Gunnar Watson’s 2,164 passing yards and 14 touchdowns ranks fifth. Jabre Barber is also sixth in the Sun Belt with 39 catches for 615 yards and three scores.

The Troy defense is ranked first in scoring defense and total defense, while both the pass defense and rush defense are ranked second in the SBC. Javon Solomon’s six sacks ranks fourth in the conference and Reddy Steward’s three interceptions is tied for first in the SBC.

Troy and South Alabama have played a total of 11 times with the Trojans holding an 8-3 edge over their rivals from Mobile. Troy is currently on the longest winning streak in the series, winning the past five straight games including last season’s 10-6 victory.

“It’s a rivalry game and it is a big game to a lot of people,” Sumrall said. “Rivalries matter, I think rivalries make college football fun.”

While the rivalry adds some emotion and motivation for players and coaches, Sumrall says all the motivation he needs comes from his hatred for losing.

“I don’t care who we’re playing, I hate losing,” Sumrall emphasized. “I have a 10-year-old son and if I play him in a pickup basketball game he’s going to lose. I don’t like losing. I probably have a disease where I like winning less than I hate losing.”

While the Trojan players are fired up about playing a rival, they’re also focused on winning a conference came even more. Troy currently sits in first place of the Sun Belt West, while South Alabama is tied with Louisiana, Texas State and Arkansas State for second.

“Yes, it’s a rivalry game but it’s also a conference game,” Linebacker Jordan Stringer said. “Anytime you play a conference game it’s huge and it just so happens it’s a rival, which makes it even better.”

The eyes of the nation will be focused on the 2023 Battle for the Belt as Troy and South Alabama will play nationally on ESPN2. Kickoff at Veterans Memorial Stadium is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.