JONESBORO -- The coach who earned his reputation as an offensive coordinator has turned his tendencies toward defense, according to Arkansas State University defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.
When Troy played ASU last season in a matchup of Sun Belt Conference unbeatens, Trojans Coach Neal Brown had the top offense in the conference. The Spread offense he crafted at Texas Tech and Kentucky was recording league bests in points per game (33.7) and total offense (429.6 yards per game), but it sputtered in a 35-3 loss to ASU while yielding five turnovers.
Troy at Arkansas State
WHEN 6:30 p.m. Central
WHERE Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro
RECORDS Arkansas State 7-3, 6-1 Sun Belt Conference; Troy 9-2, 6-1
This season, Troy has the conference's top scoring defense (16.8 points per game) and total defense (315.9 yards per game).
Cauthen said Brown has adjusted his game plans.
"He's noticing that their defense is playing well, and he's playing to their defense," Cauthen said. "They've got a couple of good running backs, and they're trying to pound the ball and run the clock. So, they'll get into a little Spread, but it's not typical of what his history has been."
The new style of play was showcased in Troy's 24-21 victory over then-No. 25 LSU, when the Trojans rushed for 206 yards and had a time of possession advantage of nearly nine minutes.
Senior running back Jordan Chunn has 741 yards rushing and leads the Sun Belt with 10 rushing touchdowns.
Troy has not abandoned its passing game, as evidenced by quarterback Brandon Silvers throwing for 335 yards and two touchdowns in the Trojans' 34-10 victory over Georgia State. In fact, Troy is averaging more passing yards per game (268.5) than it did last year (246.4), and it is averaging less rushing attempts per game this year (31.7) than it did last year (37.3).
The figures illustrate an offensive balance that, paired with Cauthen's assessment, show an offense that can still have explosive pass plays while leaning on its running game.
"You make 'em one dimensional if you can," ASU Coach Blake Anderson said. "Take away the run, and then hope that our pass rush takes over and makes them uncomfortable. It's what we did a year ago. We were able to bottle up the run. You don't stop it. You control it. Slow it down."
ASU gave up 136 rushing yards in a 67-50 victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, when sophomore linebacker Trent Ellis-Brewer was lost for the season with an ACL tear. Ellis-Brewer moved into the starting role after sophomore Tajhea Chambers suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Georgia Southern.
Depth issues at linebacker began in the offseason when senior linebacker Khari Lain was suspended for the season for not meeting an NCAA policy during the team's appearance in the 2016 Cure Bowl.
Senior linebacker Kyle Wilson practiced in full pads Wednesday after he suffered a rib injury Saturday, and Anderson said he would play against Troy.
Ellis-Brewer's injury presents a possible weakness against Troy.
"If you're a smart coach, you're going to try and find match-ups," Anderson said. "There's been times that we played really, really well, and there's been times when we've played like guys that are inexperienced. So, we've got to go out and just play our defense. We can't change our defense to cover up one or two guys."
Cauthen said freshman Caleb Bonner (18 tackles) and redshirt junior Antwon Turnage (13 tackles) will fill in for Ellis-Brewer, and sophomore safety Darreon Jackson (39 tackles) could see some run at linebacker. Bonner also started the season listed as a safety.
"We've got to have somebody step up in that spot and be ready to take on a big challenge against a good team for a championship," Wilson said. "I feel like we have no problem with somebody stepping in just wanting to make plays, so we'll be good."
After weeks of holding a defensive advantage, ASU will play a Troy team that has better defensive statistics than the Red Wolves.
"Well, we've gotta play defense, too," Cauthen said. "So, that's the challenge that our defense has is playing up to their defense. So, it needs to be, from our standpoint on defense, it needs to be a tight game. We need to hold them to very minimal yards on every single play."
Sports on 11/30/2017