MOSCOW, Idaho – After making a goal-line stand in the final minute to turn away Louisiana-Monroe 31-23 and end a three-game losing streak, the Idaho Vandals (3-5) head to Troy (6-2) on Thursday with less desperation and more momentum.
“We knew we had what it took to win. We got our backs off the wall a little bit,” UI linebacker Tony Lashley said.
Troy’s signature win this season is a 24-21 victory over LSU. The Trojans have stumbled only once in the Sun Belt Conference, losing to South Alabama 19-8 a week after the LSU upset.
Idaho beat South Alabama 29-23 in an overtime game that went nearly 7 hours because of lightning delays.
Troy has an effective passing attack. Brandon Silvers, who has thrown for 1,941 yards and five touchdowns this season against four interceptions, he is also a threat to run. His favorite targets are Deondre Douglas, 31 catches for 378 yards and two touchdowns, and Emanual Thompson, 30 receptions for 288 yards. Vandals coach Paul Petrino calls them two of the best receivers in the conference.
What the Trojans do best is pound big running backs at a defense. Jordan Chunn (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) leads Troy with 518 yards on 101 carries with six touchdowns. After missing Troy’s last two games with an arm injury, he is probable to return against Idaho. Josh Anderson (5-11, 250) backs up Chunn with 227 yards on 47 carries with three touchdowns.
The Trojans also feature a stout defense surrendering just 317.4 yards a game. That ranks them 21st in the country and is tops in the Sun Belt.
Idaho responds with an offense that had a breakout performance against ULM. Quarterback Matt Linehan was the Sun Belt Player of the Week after throwing for 360 yards and three touchdowns. Aaron Duckworth continues to lead Sun Belt rushers with 739 yards. He has scored three touchdowns.
The improvement starts up front, Petrino said.
“It started with protections,” he said. “It was good to see all our young linemen playing better.”
The Vandals were without their lone senior lineman, Jordan Rose, against ULM. Petrino said his possible return against Troy is day-to-day.
Petrino said the key to beating Troy is to force the Trojans into three-and-outs on offense and to stay close enough to win at the end.
“As long as it is close at the end, I don’t care if it is a high-scoring or low-scoring game,” he said.
Idaho’s hopes of qualifying for a bowl game are resurgent as the Vandals look to their midweek date with Troy.
“We match up well with these guys. We’ve got down on paper what we want to do,” said Lashley, who leads Idaho with 73 tackles. “Now we have to execute.”