In a season that has ben eerily similar to Duke’s, Troy will look to turn things around when it travels to Durham to take on the Blue Devils.
Just like Duke, Troy is riding a two-game losing streak after opening the season 2-0 and will use this weekend as a chance to keep its postseason hopes alive. Within a three-game span, the Trojans won 66-3 against Savannah State, lost a 41-34 heartbreaker to Arkansas State and were decimated by Mississippi State 62-7.
“[Mississippi State is] a very good team,” head coach Larry Blakeney said, “And they took us to the woodshed, and it’s something we’ve got to be man enough to admit and move on. If we dwell in the past, then we’ll have problems.”
Blakeney has been looking to return the Trojans to the team's success from 2006-10, in which he guided them to four bowl berths in five years.
There was not much to be said by players or coaches following last week’s blowout loss to Mississippi State. Both Blakeney and redshirt senior quarterback Corey Robinson said last week’s loss was embarrassing, noting execution to be their biggest issue throughout the contest.
The Trojans' opponent this week, Duke, was undone by similar execution issues in a 58-55 loss to Pittsburgh last week.
“Credit where credit is due,” Blakeney said. “[Mississippi State] executed and we couldn’t get the ball from them. We didn’t execute very well ourselves. Embarrassing loss, yes. I’ve been embarrassed before. It’s not the worse I’ve ever been beaten but it’s close.”
The downward trend for the offense is one the Trojans will look to break against a struggling Blue Devil secondary that has allowed 10 touchdowns through the air in the past two games.
“You can move the football if you’re expeditious and you take advantage of your opportunities,” Blakeney said. “You can move the football and score points on [Duke]. It’s been proven—Pitt did.”
Robinson was a standout during his freshman campaign, in which he threw for 28 touchdowns and was named Sun Belt Freshman of the Year. He also managed to lead his team to a victory in the New Orleans Bowl against Ohio and was named MVP after tossing for 387 yards and four touchdowns.
Throughout the course of the past three seasons, Robinson’s production has slipped. He has yet to put up the big numbers he did as a freshman, with last week’s 105-yard performance being the worst of his collegiate career.
“Right now we’re struggling a little bit offensively,” Blakeney said. “[Robinson] has to live with the responsibility of being the quarterback. He’s made a couple of ill-fated throws that I wish I had back for him, and I’m sure he wishes he had back.”
One facet of the offense that Robinson has managed to shine in this year is his connection with senior wide receiver Eric Thomas. The pair has developed chemistry throughout their years together, and it has only strengthened in the 2013 campaign. With six touchdowns between the pair already this season, Thomas is on pace to shatter his previous single-season touchdown mark of nine.
Despite Troy's offensive struggles, Thomas has a knack for finding the end zone this season, with his six scores coming on just 17 receptions.
Troy's defense will be tasked with stopping a Duke offense that features a quarterback who is still finding his bearings in Brandon Connette. If the Trojans are able to get after Connette, forcing him into making mistakes may not be difficult, with the redshirt junior throwing four interceptions against Pittsburgh. Troy has excelled in the pass rush and disrupting the passer this season, with 10 sacks for 69 yards through four games.
"They're good, an older defense," senior Duke offensive lineman Dave Harding said. "They've got a lot of experience across the board, and we can't take them lightly. They're talented. From what I've seen they have a very good defensive end and a good defensive tackle that we're going to have to be ready for."
Despite Troy's defensive struggles, the unit has excelled late in games. Through four games, the Trojans have held opponents to a mere 17 points in the final period of play, only 4.3 per game. This season, Troy has allowed an average of 40 points per game in the first, second and third quarters combined. After the 2012 season in which the Trojans lost six games by a touchdown or less, the defense seems determined not to let the game slip away at the last second.