VolQuest - SCOUTING THE OPPONENT: Troy
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SCOUTING THE OPPONENT: Troy

All-American LB Carlton Martial
All-American LB Carlton Martial

It’s been a particularly unusual college football offseason, but with the recent news that Tennessee players will return to campus this month and start voluntary workouts on June 8, there’s real optimism that a season will still happen despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we do each year, here’s a brief snapshot of Tennessee’s 12 opponents for the fall. We continue the preseason preview series with a look at the Troy Trojans.

Troy — Nov. 24

2019 Record: 5-7

Head Coach: Chip Lindsey

2020 OUTLOOK

Year 1 of the Chip Lindsey era at Troy started with a thud, as the former Auburn offensive coordinator (and longtime friend of UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt dating back to their ties at Hoover High) was unable to sustain the previous success established by Neil Brown.

After three consecutive bowl appearances, the Trojans felt to 5-7 in 2019, as Lindsey had to replace almost the entire defense off a team that won 10 games the year before, and Troy’s top tailback B.J. Smith tore his ACL in the second game of the season.

Troy actually had a strong offense (No. 25 nationally in points per game at 33.8, Top 40 in yards per play and SP+), with senior quarterback Kaleb Parker distributing the football to a deep wideout corps led by Kaylon Geiger (77 catches for 873 yards and five touchdowns). Five other targets caught at least three touchdowns, too, including Reggie Todd, a former Mississippi State signee who averaged over 17 yards per reception. While Parker has exhausted his eligibility, all the playmakers are back. Same for Smith, who is now healthy, and backup DK Billingsley, who filled in admirably in Smith’s absence (899 yards on 5.8 per clip with 10 touchdowns).

Lindsey must rebuild Troy’s offensive line, with three all-conference guys gone, and the quarterback situation is unclear. Backup Gunnar Watson will compete with JUCO transfer Parker McNeil and former Vandy transfer Jacob Free.

Still, scoring points shouldn’t be too big of a problem in 2020 for the Trojans. It’s getting enough stops.

They lost three shootouts, all in various heartbreaking fashion, when scoring at least 35 points last season. They gave up 50 to Arkansas State, 47 to Southern Miss and 36 to Coastal Carolina. They combined to lose all three games by 14 points.

The first-year staff was forced to play a slew of underclassmen, including three freshmen in the secondary. Understandably, Troy’s pass defense ranked No. 118 in yards per game and No. 115 in yards per attempt.

Eight of Troy’s top 10 tacklers off last year’s defense return, including standout All-American middle linebacker Carlton Martial. The now-junior ate up tackles on a horrid defense, finishing No. 9 nationally with a 126 stops. The 5-10, 220-pound linebacker added 18.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and three picks to his stat line.

The defense should certainly improve, especially as a young defensive back room is a year older (safety Dell Pettus was second on the team in tackles and earned Freshman All-American honors) and adds several guys who sat out last season (namely, Iowa OLB transfer Jayden McDonald, South Dakota State DB transfer Monte’ McGary and Auburn OLB transfer Richard Jibunor).

2020 SCHEDULE
SEPT. 5 ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF

SEPT. 12

@ UMASS

SEPT. 19

NC STATE

SEPT. 26

OPEN

OCT. 3

@ SOUTH ALABAMA

OCT. 8

TEXAS STATE

OCT. 17

ULM

OCT. 24

GEORGIA STATE

OCT. 31

@ ARKANSAS STATE

NOV. 7

@ GEORGIA SOUTHERN

NOV. 14

COASTAL CAROLINA

NOV. 21

@ TENNESSEE

NOV. 28

@ APP. STATE

NOTABLE NEW ADDITIONS 

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1. Tennessee has several ties to Troy’s program, including a couple former (then named) Troy State alums. Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley and outside linebacker coach Shelton Felton played together for the Trojans in the early 2000s, while analyst Todd Watson was on staff at Troy from 2015-2017.

2. The Trojans do have some coaching continuity entering Lindsey’s second season, as both offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh and defensive coordinator Brandon Hall are back. That didn’t translate into much recruiting success in 2020 though, as the Trojans signed the nation’s No. 95 class, per Rivals.

3. A staple of a lot of rat defenses: Troy couldn’t get stops on third down last season. The Trojans ranked No. 118 nationally, allowing conversions nearly 47% of the time. They were 0-6, including those three close losses, when allowing opponents to convert more than 40% of their attempts.

4. Troy was actually solid at rushing the passer in 2019 (30 sacks, No. 3 in Sun Belt) and there’s optimism that group could be even better this fall. Sophomore tackle Will Choloh Jr. (4.0 sacks, 8.5 TFLs) makes it tough on OL to get their hands on him, and is projected to be an all-conference player. They need more out of former JUCO pass rusher John Hines Jr. (just 1.5 sacks in 2019) and transfers Jibunor and McDonald should push for snaps.

5. While the Trojans still have some holes on their roster, the schedule isn’t quite as daunting as 2019 — especially early on with a front-loaded home slate. The consensus seems to be that most expect Troy to be back in the postseason this fall. Its win total sits at either 7 or 7.5 depending on the sportsbook. ESPN’s FPI has Troy as heavy favorites in six games, with a tossup showdown with Coastal Carolina (50.4%) in mid-November.