On Wednesday, Appalachian State showed that it may be the best team in the Sun Belt Conference with a convincing shutout win at Louisiana-Lafayette. On Saturday, Troy may have showed that it may be the best challenger to knock off the Mountaineers.
Troy’s offense made plays when it had to and its defense held steady, as the Trojans beat Georgia State, 31-21. The emotional win showed the Trojans are possibly returning to the dominance they displayed in the last decade, when they won five straight Sun Belt championships from 2006 to 2010.
Troy leads the SBC with a 3-0 record, by half a game on App State and Arkansas State, which are both 2-0. The key thing is that the last couple of times Troy started conference play with three straight wins, the Trojans went on to win the conference title.
For a while, things were not looking so good for the Trojans. Despite outgaining Georgia State 169-74 in the first half, Troy had only a 6-0 halftime lead. The Panthers took their first two drives of the third quarter for touchdowns to take a 14-6 lead. Then Troy tried to respond by driving to the GSU 2-yard line, but the Panthers stuffed a run. Troy then went for it on fourth down and scored a touchdown, only for it to be negated by a penalty.
Troy kicked a field goal, but it did light a spark.
Trojan head coach Neal Brown was furious and lit into his football team, yelling at his players after the field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Troy kicked an onside kick and recovered the ball. Troy then scored three touchdowns and a two-point conversion to take a commanding 31-14 lead.
Quarterback Michael Silvers threw two touchdown passes in that span, a 15-yard strike to Josh Anderson and a 29-yard connection to Deondre Douglas. Silvers, who was 20-for-35 for 235 yards passing, has developed into one of the better quarterbacks in the Sun Belt and a possible contender for offensive player of the year.
Running back Jordan Chunn also delivered a strong performance, rushing for 91 yards on 32 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run that sparked Troy’s run.
Meanwhile, while Georgia State did take a third-quarter lead thanks to two touchdown passes by Connor Manning, the Panthers committed two costly turnovers in the fourth quarter that kept them from rallying. Manning did produce a decent game by throwing for 382 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions, including one that set up a Troy touchdown.
Georgia State’s bowl hopes are now on life support. The Panthers are 1-5 overall and facing a tough schedule the rest of the way. Troy is one more win from being bowl eligible, and could get that clinching win on Thursday night against in-state rival South Alabama.
The Jaguars are 3-3 overall and have big wins over Mississippi State and San Diego State, but are snake-bitten in the Sun Belt so far. USA lost to Arkansas State 17-7 on Saturday, moving its SBC record to 0-3.
After the rivalry game, Troy then hosts UMass on Nov. 5 before hosting App State on Nov. 12, which might be the game that decides the Sun Belt championship. Troy is building momentum towards that big game with a potent offense that can move the ball many different ways and an opportunistic defense. The Trojans are not yet the favorite to win the SBC, but if they can keep playing at a high level, they may bring back the tradition of being the best team in the conference.