Saturday, Sept. 20, 12 p.m.
Ohio Stadium (102,329)
TV: Big Ten Network
2007 Record: 8-4, 6-1 Sun Belt Conference
Head Coach: Larry Blakeney, 138-68-1 (18th season)
Troy will enter Ohio Stadium Saturday afternoon as 21-point underdogs to 13th-ranked Ohio State. Don't expect the Trojans to be overwhelmed by the 100,000-plus fans in The Horseshoe.
Last year, the Trojans played against 92,746 people against Georgia in Samford Stadium. A trip to Florida saw Troy battle the Gators in front of 90,244 spectators in The Swamp. The yells of "Woo Pig Sooey" from 73,926 Arkansas fans echoed through the Trojans' cardinal helmets during last year's opener, as did the din of the Florida State war chant and 77,217 spectators during a game in 2006.
How did the Trojans respond? By going out and playing ball. They stayed with Florida State before dropping a 24-17 decision in '06, then put up an average of more than 30 points per game on Arkansas, Florida and Georgia last year. The only problem was a defense that gave up more than Troy could put on the board.
The coup de grace came during a home date with Oklahoma State when Troy moved to 2-0 on its home turf all-time against BCS conference foes with a 41-23 win over the Cowboys.
In other words, anyone taking the Trojans lightly is doing so at their own peril.
"They definitely have some great abilities," Ohio State tailback Boom Herron said. "They're not a slack team. This is not a team where you could say we're going to go out and run it a couple of times and that's it. They're a good team."
Troy has lost its big three offensive targets from that explosive offense that lit up the SEC and finished 17th in the nation in yards and 25th in scoring. Quarterback Omar Haugabook, the 2006 Sun Belt Player of the Year and 2007 conference offensive player of the year, exhausted his eligibility, as did leading rusher Kenny Cattouse and leading receiver Gary Banks and No. 2 target Josh Allen.
The defense also lost some big-time playmakers, especially Leodis McKelvin, a cornerback who made 60 tackles and two interceptions and was chosen in the first round of the NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. Also gone is the cornerback on the other side, Eugene Mack, who led the NCAA with eight interceptions.
Nonetheless, the Trojans have had an impressive start to the season. Their opener on Aug. 28 was a 31-17 win over a Middle Tennessee team that defeated Maryland – a recent victor over a ranked Cal side – and took SEC power Kentucky to the wire before seeing its attempt at a game-winning play end a yard short of the goal line.
"They thrashed Middle Tennessee pretty good, and we all know what Middle Tennessee has done the last couple weeks, they beat Maryland and ended up on the half-yard line or something and should have or could have or whatever beat Kentucky," head coach Jim Tressel said. "Troy had their way with them, and so we know Troy is an excellent football team."
After a Hurricane Gustav-imposed week off that prevented Troy from taking on defending national champion LSU, the Trojans got back in action Saturday night against Alcorn State. During a 65-0 thrashing, Troy set school records for total offense (736 yards) and first downs (36) and tied records for most completions (37), points in a half (52) and interceptions in a game (six). Most of the squad's starters barely played into the second half.
On offense, the Trojans are led by sophomore Jamie Hampton, who has skippered a unit that has not missed a beat. Hampton is the man behind Troy's spread offense, finding receivers on quick routes, going deep and scrambling with equal skill. Running back DuJuan Harris, who has 187 yards and three touchdowns, and wideout Jerrel Jernigan have filled in for Cattouse and Banks, respectively.
"They have so many things they can do – five-wide receiver sets, they throw the ball around, bubble screens and they can throw it deep," OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis said of the Troy offense.
Defensively, Troy runs a 4-2-5 setup that relies on a quicker, undersized line to get pressure and active linebackers to make plays. The extra defensive backs on the field could have an affect in the passing game, as Troy boasts the No. 1 passing efficiency defense in the nation.
Trojan Players To Know
QB Jamie Hampton: After being a first-team all-state performer at Cedar Bluff, Ala., Hampton arrived at Troy last year and immediately had an impact behind Haugabook. He ran the ball 26 times for an average of 6.2 yards per carry and threw 11 passes. That experience helped him throw five touchdowns against one interception during spring scrimmages, a performance that gave him the inside track at the starting job coming into camp.
"The thing with Jamie is that he can move around the pocket," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said before the season. "As the spring progressed, he got better and better throwing the football. I think he can do some really good things. He is a winner and I am excited about him. He has worked hard, is a smart kid and I feel good about where he is."
So far, he has not disappointed, throwing for 323 yards and four touchdowns during the first half against Alcorn State. For the year, he has completed 43 of 65 passes (66.2 percent) for 459 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has 17 rushes for 86 yards and two scores.
WR Jerrel Jernigan: Jernigan was part of the class of 2007 with Hampton and has had a similar impact. Last year, the 5-9 Jernigan started five games as a freshman and caught 30 passes for 337 yards and three scores, including 11 catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia, while running the ball 14 times.
This year, Jernigan has a team-high 14 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown and has carried the ball once this year. In the return game, Jernigan has 17.7 yards per kick return and 10.8 yards per punt return try.
LB Boris Lee: A junior, Lee entered the season as someone Troy was promoted as a possible winner of the Lombardi Award after he made 62 tackles, six for loss, as a freshman in 2006 and 82 stops with three fumble recoveries last year.
He didn't do much to tame that talk when he was credited for 24 tackles by the Trojans' coaching staff during the opener against Middle Tennessee. In spot action against the overmatched Alcorn State squad, Lee added four more tackles to get to 28 on the year. He also has three stops for loss and an interception.
DB Sherrod Martin: The senior is a great story. Martin, a safety, worked his way into the starting lineup during his freshman year of 2004 and made 68 tackles with three interceptions. He also did well in 2005 with 78 tackles, five stops for loss, a sack, a fumble recovery and two interceptions.
Then the adversity came, as Martin missed 2006 with a medical redshirt after he had surgery on both shoulders that kept him out for the campaign. 2007 didn't start out much better, as he broke bones in his hand against Florida that limited his effectiveness. He returned three weeks later, at which point Troy's opponents went from scoring 39.8 points per game to 12.6. He finished the year with nine tackles for loss among his 52 stops.
This year, Martin has made 15 tackles, but most importantly he intercepted Alcorn State's quarterback three times to earn his first interceptions since 2005.
When Ohio State has the ball: Not having Chris Wells in the lineup is a blow to Ohio State, which will be facing a quick but not particularly big Troy defense. The projected starting lineup features a defensive line averaging just 265 pounds across, and linebackers Lee and Bear Woods are 231 and 228 pounds, respectively.
Make no mistake, the Buckeyes' best option is to line up and run at the Trojans, who were just 94th in the nation in rush defense a year ago. Arkansas was able to pile up 350 yards on the ground against Troy last year, Florida had 264, Oklahoma State had 241 and Georiga had 240. Anything below 200 yards and the Buckeyes could be in trouble.
The good news is that even while struggling the last two weeks, the Buckeye offense has been OK moving the ball on the ground. The Buckeye tailbacks have averaged 4.5 yards per carry during the past two games even in Wells' absence. Throw in the rushing abilities of Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes should be in good shape on the ground.
The Trojans bring in an experienced and talented pass defense. Last year, Troy placed 19th in the nation in pass defense and has moved up to No. 1 this season. While Middle Tennessee and Alcorn State aren't bombers, last year's mark shows this is no secondary to discount. The Trojans are a little bit like Ohio in that regard, as the Bobcats brought in a passing defense that had older players and had proven itself over the past year and a half.
The three starters at safety – including Martin and Tavares Williams, who are preseason first-team All-Sun Belt choices – all are seniors. At one corner spot, the Trojans have Trevor Ford, a transfer from Florida State. This is a pass defense that can get it done.
When Troy has the ball: The first thing to understand is that Troy will throw different speeds of offense at the Buckeyes. Sometimes, the Trojans will go hurry up, sometimes they won't, and sometimes they'll hit a happy medium that is designed to keep the Buckeyes guessing.
"They have really three different tempos," Laurinaitis said. "They want to keep you off guard a little bit. I think their goal is to get 80-something plays in the game and tire the defense out. You have to be ready for something like that."
Getting ready is harder than it might seem just because getting a scout team to put together an attack with such a quick tempo can be a tall task. Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said the Buckeyes have a hard week ahead of them.
"We've tried to simulate as best we can, but that's the hard part," Heacock said. "It's hard to get a scout team that's going to run up to the line and run a play while you're holding up cards. It's hard to simulate that speed and that quickness. We've tried to be creative and we've tried to run a couple of teams at them to get it faster."
The plays used to set the tempo aren't so hard to stop either. The Buckeyes will get a look at the mobile quarterback that has at times flummoxed them during the past two seasons in Hampton, who isn't afraid to take off when necessary.
Last year, Troy got it done in a spread offense quarterbacked by Haugabook and coordinated by Tony Franklin, who left after the season for the coordinator job at Auburn. In his place is Brown, who is the youngest coordinator at the Division I-A level. He's kept the same system as Franklin, which includes the spread rushing attack that has become so familiar as well as a fair share of short screens to the wide receivers and deep balls.
"You just get so many different looks," Heacock said. "You'll see four receivers into the boundary and you're going to get splits as wide as this table. They just do a little bit of everything and prepare for everything."
To counteract that multiplicity, lineman Doug Worthington said the Buckeyes have been working on some 30 defense in practice, a setup that features three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive back, a practice that in past years has been known as the dime defense for OSU.
Troy's playmakers are quick but not big, giving the Buckeyes a size advantage as well.