Trojan defense dominating the ‘Money Downs’

Published 12:36 pm Monday, November 13, 2023

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In the game of football, how a team performs on third and fourth downs can mean the difference in a win and a loss. The Troy Trojans’ defense has been one of the most dominant teams in the country in that category this season.

Many coaches refer to third and fourth downs as “Money Downs” because of the importance it has on the game. Against Louisiana-Monroe last week, it may have been the difference between a tight contest and a blowout win for the Trojans.

ULM had the ball inside the Troy 30 on four different occasions in the first half of that game. The Trojan defense forced three turnovers on down and blocked a field goal in all four of those opportunities. For the game, the Troy defense held ULM to just 4-of-15 on third down and 0-for-4 on fourth down. The week prior, the Trojans held South Alabama to 0-of-10 on third down, as well.

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This hasn’t been a recent phenomenon, however. During Troy’s seven-game winning streak, the Trojans have held opponents to 27-of-112, a 24 percent percentage, on third and fourth downs.

For the season, Troy is ranked No. 10 in the entire country – and first in the Sun Belt – in third down defense, allowing opposing offenses to convert a third down just 29 percent of the time. The Trojans are also ranked No. 7 in the country – first in the SBC – in fourth down defense, at 28 percent. Troy is the only team in the country in the Top 10 in both third and fourth down defense.

As good as the Troy defense was in 2022, improving the “Money Downs” was a key for the 2023 defense coming into the season. Troy’s defense held opposing offenses to 39.7 percent on third downs and 51.7 percent on fourth downs last season.

“It starts with knowing who you are, what you do well and what are your strengths and weaknesses and what personnel you can use to give you better rushes or cover downs in the secondary,” Troy Coach Jon Sumrall said of fine tuning defense on ‘Money Downs.’ “What (does the opponent) do? Do they have a mobile quarterback and is quarterback draw or quarterback run game stuff what they do or what are the things they can do to cause you problems (on third down)?”

Sumrall also emphasized the importance of situational awareness on third and fourth down.

“Situational awareness is big, too,” he continued. “We talk a lot about being situational masters because third-and-one is different from third-and-six and that is different than third-and-12. How you play and make a call (on defense) changes a little bit with down and distance. I think our guys have done a nice job of getting into the game plan and knowing who we are and how the opponent is and knowing the situation. We’ve definitely showed improvement on third downs this season.”

That improvement on the “Money Downs” has helped lead Troy to a seven-game winning streak and a second straight appearance in the Sun Belt Championship.