In these days of high-scoring offenses with wide-open passing games, there is still a place in college football for a team that can run the ball effectively and play some serious D.
That’s certainly been the formula for Troy football, the defending Sun Belt Conference champion and a team that doesn’t appear eager to relinquish that title.
With the outdated NCAA rule that keeps James Madison from participating in the league championship game since this is only JMU’s second season as an FBS program, Troy remains a viable candidate to repeat as conference champion.
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(NCAA rules state that every program that moves up to FBS is required to undergo a two-year transition period during which the program is ineligible to compete in a conference championship game.)
Even if James Madison were eligible, Troy would still be a major candidate.
That D will keep the Trojans in every game. That was evident earlier this year when Troy lost a 16-14 decision to James Madison. To put that game in perspective, James Madison is averaging a healthy 34.5 points per game. Take away the Troy game and JMU (6-0) is averaging 38.2 points in its other five wins.
Troy (5-2, 2-1 Sun Belt) is allowing just 17.43 points per game, which is 20th among all FBS schools. Take away a 42-13 loss at Power Five Kansas State and the figure drops to 13.3 points per game.
Troy has won four in a row, and during that time, the Trojans have allowed an average of 8.5 points per game.
That included a 28-7 win over Georgia State. Not only was it the Panthers’ lone loss this season, but it was the only time they have been held to under 30 points.
Even by Troy’s standards, this past week’s 19-0 win at Army was on another level. Consider that it was the first time Army was shut out at home in two decades. It was the first time Army was shut out at all in nine seasons.
Troy caused four Army turnovers, led by Richard Jibunor, who forced two fumbles. Linebacker Jayden McDonald had a game-high 13 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss.
Jibunor is a 6-3, 230-pound senior who plays what is known as the BAN position, akin to a strong safety. He began his career at Auburn in 2018 and after one season, he transferred to Troy.
McDonald (6-0, 227) began his career at Iowa, but after redshirting in 2018, he transferred to Troy. He leads the Trojans in tackles (45) and tackles for loss (7.5).
The running game is spearheaded by Kimani Vidal, who currently is the leading rusher in FBS. The 5-8, 215-pound Vidal has played 41 career games at Troy and has rushed for exactly 3,300 career yards. After rushing for 116 yards against Army, he now has 951 this season.
The only time this year he was truly held in check was against James Madison. Vidal rushed for 27 yards on 11 carries, in a game in which Troy was held to -12 yards rushing, its fourth fewest in a game since 1996.
Troy is 33rd among FBS schools in rushing, averaging 185.6 yards per game.
This doesn’t mean that Troy can’t throw the ball. QB Gunnar Watson has completed 59.4% of his passes for 1,766 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Still, it is the running game that makes the offense go.
Troy now has a well-positioned bye, which comes at a good time before the Trojans resume their schedule on Oct. 28 at Sun Belt West foe Texas State before hosting always dangerous South Alabama the next week.
There are plenty of challenges left for Troy, but its future opponents will also be seriously tested by the Trojans, a team that thrives by doing the basics quite well.