TROY — Troy head coach Chip Lindsey sidled up to quarterback Taylor Powell long after the outcome of Saturday night’s season opener was in doubt.
“We had a little conversation on the sideline,” Lindsey said. “He had this smile on his face. I said what is it and he said, ‘Gosh, this is awesome, this atmosphere and everything.'”
The season couldn’t have started much better for Powell and the Trojans.
Named the starter after a spirited offseason battle for the job with incumbent Gunnar Watson, Powell marched the Trojans 76 yards in 12 plays on the game’s opening drive and the Trojans never looked back in a 55-3 victory over Southern University on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
There were new faces and familiar ones on the home side, but nearly everyone contributed to a dominating night in all three phases of the game. The Trojans took a commanding 34-3 halftime lead, the most points for Troy in a first half in its Division I history. The defense did its part, too, intercepting four passes including a pick-six by cornerback Zion Williams.
“Obviously, it was great to get off to a good start,” Lindsey said. “We scored on the first drive and then the defense goes out and gets a stop or two right in a row. Really pleased with how we started the game. … I thought our team came out and played with some passion and a sense of urgency, something we talked a lot about. Defensively, I think we smothered them.”
Troy rushed for 164 yards and Powell and Watson combined for 303 yards through the air. Southern managed 81 rushing yards and just 108 passing.
Powell finished the game 17-for-28 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns, a performance set up by a blistering start. The junior transfer from the University of Missouri converted on fourth-and-6 on the Trojans’ first possession when he hit Tez Johnson for 22 yards.
“That was a big conversion,” Powell said. “That kind of carried us into the end zone and let us get on the board early.”
Johnson, who finished with six catches for 92 yards, said that fourth-down play was exactly what Troy practiced.
“We knew if they bring a tunnel blitz that I could just break in and it was going to be a really good play. That’s basically what I did,” Johnson said. “They were in really tight coverage so I just broke in and ran for a couple yards. It turned out to be a good play.”
Powell said his connection with Johnson “goes all the way back to January when I got here.”
“I made it (a priority) to really emphasize timing with these receivers and knowing where they’re going to be vs. certain coverages,” the quarterback said. “It was good to see Tez read it how I saw it and we were able to make it work.”
Powell’s 22-yard completion to Johnson on that key fourth-down play moved the ball to the Southern 20. The quarterback capped that opening drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown.
The Trojans’ second possession ended with a Powell-to-Johnson touchdown pass for 26 yards. That came after Powell stood in the pocket against pressure and delivered a pass to Luke Whittemore, who made a sprawling catch on the tipped ball. Powell was hit late on the play and the penalty moved the ball to the Southern 26, setting up the TD strike to Johnson.
Through two possessions, the quarterback completed 8-of-10 passes for 105 yards with a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown and key fourth-down conversion.
Powell wasn’t perfect. He threw an interception that ended a scoring threat on the Trojans’ third possession.
That only gave the defense an opportunity to shine. Two plays after the interception, cornerback Zion Williams picked off Southern quarterback Ladarius Skelton near the sideline and returned it 19 yards to end zone for a 21-0 Troy lead.
Powell bounced back after a Southern field goal with a near-perfect fade to Deshon Stoudemire in the left corner of the end zone, a throw placed on Stoudemire’s outside shoulder covering 17 yards for a 28-3 advantage.
A second Troy interception, T.J. Harris’ pick when the outside linebacker dropped into coverage in the right flat, allowed the Trojans to add to their lead in the final minute of the first half.
Starting at the Southern 16, Powell drove the Trojans inside the 5-yard line on a slant completion to Jabre Barber. Barber was hit and fumbled the ball into the end zone, an apparent turnover, but Jaguars defender Chase Foster was ejected for targeting on the collision.
That set up Jamontez Woods’ 1-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds remaining in the half. It was his first Troy career touchdown. The PAT was blocked, sending Troy to the locker room with a 34-3 advantage over the visitors from Baton Rouge.
Troy scored early in the third quarter to extend its lead. One play after defensive end Lyston Barber was ejected for a targeting penalty, running back Kimani Vidal burst through the right side of the line, cut to his right and raced 37 yards to the end zone and a 41-3 Troy lead.
Veteran running back B.J. Smith was next, scoring his 20th career rushing touchdown on a 5-yard carry late in the third quarter.
Woods added another scored with a 1-yard run with 3:02 left in the game.
Vidal gained 81 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries to lead the Trojans. Smith gained 54 yards on 10 rushes with a touchdown. Jamontez Woods added 28 yards and two TDs on 13 attempts.
Powell credited the offensive line and the Trojan running backs for controlling the game in the second half.
“Our biggest thing this year is we want to be balanced and play winning football — whether that means I hand it off 40 times or we throw it 40 times,” Powell said. “Whatever the defense is going to give us we’re going to take. Having those three running backs and us being able to rely on the running game that takes pressure off me. Then if they move some safeties in the box, here goes the throwing game. It’s good to see this kind of new form of our offense.”
It was the first football game between Troy and Southern and gave the Trojans a 20-3 record all-time and 4-0 mark over SWAC teams since moving to the FBS level.
Courtesy: Troy University athletics