MADISON - Although he is only three games into his head coaching career, Neal Brown knows exactly what Troy is in for Saturday afternoon when the Trojans take on No.24 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.
Rattling off the Badgers’ usually balanced offense, reputation for having one of the top defenses in the country and a solid kicking game, Brown knows the Badgers don’t bother disguising their strengths.
“Wisconsin is exactly what you think – a big, physical team,” said Brown. “(We’re) definitely going to have our hands full.”
That’s not necessarily a bad thing in the eyes of Brown, 35, who was hired in December to restore glory to one of the most successful programs in the Sun Belt Conference. Moving to the FBS in 2001 and joining the Sun Belt in 2004, the Trojans’ 53-20 record (.634 winning percentage) is the highest all-time winning percentage in the conference.
The Trojans won five straight conference titles from 2006-10 and have gone 2-3 in bowl games but haven’t had a winning season in the last four years. When Larry Blakeney announced his retirement after 21 seasons, Troy turned to Brown, who spent the last seven seasons as an offensive coordinator at Troy (08-09), Texas Tech (10-12) and Kentucky (13-14).
During his time at Troy, located 50 miles southeast of Montgomery, AL, Brown’s 2009 offense finished third in the nation in total offense at 485.7 yards per game, fourth in passing at 336.5 yards per game and 16th in scoring with 33.7 points. In 2008, his first season as coordinator, Brown’s offense set 10 school records.
“I felt like I was ready to be a head coach, which was a career goal of mine,” said Brown, who was 28 when he first became an offensive coordinator. “To be able to come back to a place like Troy that has won games and has a recent history of success in the Sun Belt Conference, played football for over 100 years, won national championships at lower levels and geographically you are located in a place where you can get a lot of really good players. My wife and I enjoyed living here before, so we thought it was a really easy decision when we had the opportunity.”
Of the 88 players listed on Troy’s game three roster, 78 are from Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, including 43 from Alabama alone. The Trojans’ eight known 2016 verbal commits are also all from Alabama.
After losing his head coaching debut 49-21 to NC State, Troy beat Charleston Southern, 44-16, in the home opener last weekend. After leading 14-7 after the first quarter, the Trojans closed the game on a 30-9 run, including returning a punt returner for a touchdown for the first time since 2010.
“Our guys really started the game strong,” said Brown. “I thought we really did some good things.”
With Brown’s background, it’s not surprisingly that Troy’s main weapon is the offense. The Trojans have five touchdown drives of four plays or fewer and under one minute. The Trojans have four players of over 40 yards through two games, which is tied for 17th in the county. Wisconsin has none.
And while its defense is averaging three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss per game, Troy is giving up 32.5 points through two games, a defense that doesn’t get much time to rest considering its offense has held the ball an average of 19 minutes, 14 seconds through two games.
Only Texas has held the ball for a shorter amount of team of the 127 FBS teams in the country. It’s a concern considering Wisconsin’s offense prides itself on controlling the clock.
“Offensively we haven’t done a very good job on third downs,” said Brown, citing his team’s 25.0 conversion percentage. “Also when we scored, we scored really quickly on big plays. That’s not a bad thing. I’ll take points anyway we can get them. We’ve hit big plays and we’ve scored quickly. On defense we’ve got to get off the field on third downs … Time of possession is a bit overrated but we’ve got to do a better job of getting our defense off the field.”