Dangerous Trojans present problems

Troy's run of five straight Sun Belt championships will take a backseat this weekend, as the Trojans make another effort to knock off a team from a BCS automatic qualifying conference.

The Trojans, who have beaten Missouri and Oklahoma State at home, haven't been able to beat a team in one of the power conferences on the road since winning at Mississippi State in 2001.

Troy opens the season Saturday at Clemson in a 3:30 p.m. game.

Troy's defense will be under the watchful eye of everyone after it struggled badly for the first 10 games, but was strong over the final three, all Troy wins, to close last season. The addition of two safeties -- junior-college transfer Brynden Trawick and senior Barry Valcin, who missed last year to injury -- should bolster a unit that returns several players with experience.

The defense will get two big tests early on against Clemson and Arkansas, and the onus will be to stay focused.

"We've got to get consistent every day and be physical every day," defensive coordinator Jeremy Rowell said. "If we don't do that, we're going to be mediocre."

At quarterback, Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Corey Robinson leads an offense that should put up plenty of points if some receivers can step up. There is no bona fide star like Jerrel Jernigan, who is now with the New York Giants, but the Trojans will be counting on several wideouts, such as sophomore Eric Thomas and junior-college transfer Corey Johnson, to step up.

While Clemson's offense is getting the hype, Troy coach Larry Blakeney knows his young receivers are up against a tough test in the Tigers' defense.


Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Corey Robinson leads an offense that will test Clemson's defense in a major way Saturday afternoon. (Getty Images)
"I know they're pretty good," Blakeney said. "They've got guys who can play up front. They've got size and speed and they're aggressive."

Troy's special teams are expected to be a strength, with multi-year starters Will Goggans (punter), Michael Taylor (kicker) and Wes Henry (snapper) returning. Corey Johnson and Justin Albert are slated to be the key men in the return game.

TUESDAY NOTES
* The last time Troy played an ACC team was in 2006, when the Trojans fell 24-17 at Florida State and 35-20 at Georgia Tech. Troy held a fourth-quarter lead at FSU, and the Trojans were tied 14-14 entering the fourth quarter at Georgia Tech.

* Troy is expected to have two newcomers in the starting lineup in slot receiver Corey Johnson and S Brynden Trawick. Both are juniors who enrolled from junior college in January.

* Sophomore LB Johnny Thompson had to give up the sport due to a neck injury. Sophomore Angelo Hadley moved from safety to linebacker to offset the loss of Thompson.

SERIES HISTORY: First meeting.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Troy returns plenty of talent and experience everywhere except wide receiver, where the Trojans will be green. QB Corey Robinson was the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year last year and junior RB Shawn Southward earned that honor in 2009. Across the line, LT James Brown and LG Kyle Wilborn are entering their third year as starters, and RG Jacob Creech started three games last year before season-ending shoulder surgery.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Troy gave up just 315 yards per game to end the 2010 season, and the Trojans return several starters and experienced players. But going up against an ACC team with highly-recruited athletes is different than Sun Belt and MAC teams. The secondary is experienced with returning starting CBs Jimmie Anderson and Chris Pickett. At linebacker, starters Xavier Lamb, Brannon Bryan and Kanorris Davis have plenty of experience. DE John Robles must step up in his first year as a starter opposite preseason Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Jonathan Massaquoi.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Troy at Clemson, Sept. 3 -- Two fast-paced offenses square off. Troy has been running the no-huddle, spread attack since 2006, and this is Clemson's first year running it under new offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Troy's defense doesn't have the star power as Clemson's skill players, but it should be used to the speed.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Force new Clemson starting QB Tajh Boyd to make mistakes. If Troy's defense can make Boyd play like he did in spring practice, as well as avoid their own costly turnovers, the Trojans will have a chance at the upset.

"I wish it was Alcorn State and it was here. It's not. It's Clemson, and it's there." -- Head coach Larry Blakeney.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wish it was Alcorn State and it was here. It's not. It's Clemson, and it's there." -- Head coach Larry Blakeney on the tough opener.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Corey Robinson -- The sophomore quarterback was fantastic last year, throwing for 3,707 yards, and coaches rave about how much he has improved in the offseason. He needs to cut down on the 15 interceptions, and he'll get his first chance against a quick ACC defense.

DE Jonathan Massaquoi -- The junior is being touted as not only one of the top defensive players in the Sun Belt, but also the country. He'll be a tough match for Clemson's offensive tackles.

S Brynden Trawick -- Trawick was signed in January from junior college to add star power to the Trojan secondary, and it didn't take long for him to claim a starting spot. He'll get a test with some highly-touted young Clemson receivers.

ROSTER REPORT: WR Brett Moncrief (foot) is questionable for this week's game after surgery early in the summer, but he is adamant about playing in the Sept. 17 game at Arkansas, his home state.

--Backup QB Jamie Hampton, who suffered a broken leg last year, is also questionable for the opener. If he can't go, freshman Luke Barnes would be the backup.

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