Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: After recording five straight campaigns with eight or more wins, the Troy Trojans endured their worst season in head coach Larry Blakeney's 21-year reign as head coach in 2011.
Troy's season opened with losses on the road to Clemson (43-19) and No. 13 Arkansas (38-28), but then it seemed to get back on track, registering home wins against Middle Tennessee (38-35) and UAB (24-23) to even its record at 2-2.
That would be the high-point of the season for the Trojans however, as they finished the campaign losing seven of their final eight games, their lone win coming against last-place Florida Atlantic (34-7).
The 3-9 overall record and 2-6 mark in the Sun Belt ended the team's five-year run of claiming at least a share of the conference championship.
OFFENSE: Historically, Troy possesses a high-powered offense capable of outscoring anyone in the Sun Belt, but it struggled to put points on the board in 2011, which helped contribute to the poor record. The yardage output was there (380 ypg, fifth in the Sun Belt), but it only managed 22.4 points per game, ranking above only Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee in the conference.
Though the unit under-performed a year ago, the good news is that eight starters return on offense, led by star quarterback Corey Robinson. After an outstanding freshman campaign (3,726 yards, 28 TDs), he regressed a bit last season with 3,411 yards, 21 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Despite the downtick in production, Robinson is still one of the school's most decorated quarterbacks. His 637 completions is already a school-record, and he needs just 551 yards to set the passing yardage mark, but he doesn't let accolades get in the way of his ultimate goal.
"I really don't think about much besides winning and getting back to a bowl game," Robinson said.
Accompanying Robinson this year will be three of his top receiving targets. Eric Thomas emerged as one of the Sun Belt's best last season, finishing fourth in both receptions (67) and yards (875), while leading the conference in receiving touchdowns (9). Corey Johnson (43 catches, 440 yards) is effective in moving the chains and Chandler Worth (22 catches, 392 yards, 4 TDs) is a threat every time he touches the ball.
The running game often takes a back seat to the passing attack, but the squad returns a trio of solid backs in Shawn Southward, D.J. Taylor and Chris Anderson, all of whom combined for 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011.
DEFENSE: As poorly as the offense played at times, it was no where near as bad as the team's defensive performance. The unit surrendered 33.7 points per game and was vulnerable to the big play, allowing a league-high 465 yards per game to its opponents.
To make matters worse, the Trojans come into this season after losing many of their best players along the defensive line, including Jonathan Massaquoi (10.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks), who is now a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Tackle Tony Davis (six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) is the only returning starter up front.
Despite the loss of Xavier Lamb (88 tackles), the unit's strength appears to be its linebacking corps, which returns Brannon Bryan (82 tackles) and Kanorris Davis (60 tackles, 2 forced fumbles), both of whom were among the team's top performers a year ago.
Safety Brynden Trawick made the most of his many opportunities, recording a team-high 123 tackles. Continued solid play out of him will be key to a secondary that got burned multiple times a game last year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Trojans will have some new players taking over at both kicking positions, with Ryan Kay entering his first year as the placekicker and Will Scott taking over as the team's punter.
The return game was underwhelming last season, but Worthy (23.5 yards per kick return) has the breakaway speed to be a game-changer on special teams.
OUTLOOK: 2011 was an unexpected bump in the road for this perennial Sun Belt power. Blakeney knows that a change in focus is needed for the upcoming season, and he likes what he has seen so far in camp.
"I'm impressed with the energy that has carried over from the offseason and from spring ball," Blakeney said. "We have a lot of guys that retained a lot and know what to do and it should be that way. I challenged each individual player to come out here every day ready to get better as an individual and therefore the team gets better."
With Robinson back for his third year as the starter, the offense should be able to rebound to once again be one of the top units in the conference. There remains huge question marks on the defensive side of the ball, but the unit performed so poorly last year that an infusion of new blood can only help.
Troy should expect an improvement upon last year's three-win season, but with so many other teams in the league improving, it's going to be difficult for it to return to the Sun Belt's upper-crust. It may be able to climb out of the cellar, but a trip back to a bowl game will be a bigger challenge.