KEN ROGERS COLUMN: Neal Brown’s Troy Trojans ‘don’t blink’ en route to beating LSU
Last week began with Troy head coach Neal Brown being asked how that 28-point collapse at LSU in 2008 helped him grow or learn as a coach and play caller.
His answer was “Probably zero, honestly.”
Saturday night, immediately after the Trojans knocked off LSU 24-21, he amended that answer.
“I think about that a lot, honestly,” Brown said when asked essentially the same question. “We had a win when I was back at Texas Tech in 2010, we ended Oklahoma’s home winning streak. I thought about it a lot that night.
“Quite honestly I’ve matured as a coach and a play caller so much since 2008.”
Brown noted he had a lot more weapons at his disposal Saturday night than when he was the Trojans’ offensive coordinator in 2008. It took a 60-minute game from the offense, defense and special teams for Troy to earn that breakthrough victory on the road, which snapped LSU’s 49-game home non-conferrence winning streak.
“I thought we did a great job managing the game tonight,” Brown said. “I knew we had a really good defense. Their style of offense and our style of defense gave us an opportunity, because it was going to be a low - possession game. … We ate clock up and ran the football.”
Troy gained 206 yards on the ground and held the ball for almost 35 minutes. Oh, and the Trojans had Jordan Chunn, who gained 191 yards on 30 carries. His 74-yard burst on the second play of the second half set up his own short touchdown run, which led to a 17-0 Trojan lead.
“We have a high quality SEC style running back,” Brown said. “That’s a kid that if he lined up in purple tonight no one would know the difference.”
Brown said the Trojans were determined to shorten the game and run the football at least enough to keep LSU’s pass rush honest.
“We did some things we haven’t shown on film, gave them some different looks. We went pretty deep into some of our option stuff,” the coach said. “We were going to manage the game. We wanted to get in third-and-manageable and I thought we did a good job of that tonight.
“Our offensive line played with good pad level. They got outmanned a little bit, especially early in the game. I think it speaks to the level of our conditioning, too. They talk all the time about wanting to be a physical football team. I thought play for play we matched their physicality – maybe exceeded it.”
Troy’s defense was again outstanding. Brown said the big lead forced LSU to throw the ball more than they wanted to.
“What we wanted to do was get some negative plays in the run game and get them into some long yardage situations where we could get pressure,” Brown said. “We’ve got some good D-linemen. That’s probably the difference in us and a lot of Group of Five schools, is we’ve got some plus-D-linemen.”
Troy had a good plan that was well-executed on both sides of the football. Freshman kicker Evan Legassey missed his first field goal attempt, but made his first career field goal as time expired in the first half.
The Trojans weren’t perfect. Chunn fumbled twice in the second half – once in the red zone and once inside his own 10. But the Trojans also turned over LSU four times. Kris Weatherspoon – on the game’s first play – and Melvin Tyus both recovered fumbles. Marcus Jones and Blace Brown had interceptions – Brown’s pick sealed the victory.
Which led Brown to another point.
“Our kids, I can’t overemphasize this, they were really hungry,” the coach said. “We lost to the eventual national champion last year 30-24 and we had a 14-point swing in that game where the ball comes out as Clemson’s going over the goal line and we pick it up and run it back (officials ruled the whistle blew before the fumble) . So our kids were hungry. That’s a taste that’s been in their mouth.”
Good players, good plan, plenty of motivation. It was a recipe for an upset, a milestone victory for the Troy program. Brown wasn’t certain his team was going to win Saturday night, but he knew they would play well.
“I knew we were sitting on a good performance. I liked how we prepared, I liked how we practiced,” he said. “Then we came in here and had a mindset that we weren’t going to get beat.
“The difference between this team and other teams is we remained calm. We didn’t get excited just because we were up at the half. It was a ‘next-play’ attitude. Our motto was ‘don’t blink.’ I thought our guys never blinked.”