Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. And try to remember back to the year 1982.
Ronald Reagan was one year removed from being sworn in as the 40th President of the United States; Parachute pants were actually cool; The Clash was tearing up the pop charts with their smash hit, “Rock The Casbah;” and current Troy head coach Larry Blakeney was an assistant at Auburn. It was an interesting time indeed, but like the 2011 season, the one 29 years ago was one to forget for Troy fans, as that team finished 2-8.
In 2011, much like in ‘82, Troy stumbled to a 3-9 record, 2-6 in the Sun Belt, and sank down to the basement of the conference. It was an unusual place for a program that claimed a share of its fifth straight league title in 2010, and, quite frankly, it was very uncharacteristic of a Blakeney-coached team.
But if one thing came out of the Trojans’ most disappointing season in five years, it was that the team had to get more physical. For years and years, the Trojans have not minded mixing it up with opponents. They like it. It’s apart of the culture that is Troy football under coach Blakeney. But last year, being physical seemed to get lost in the shuffle throughout the duration of a grueling schedule, which featured out-of-conference opponents Clemson, Arkansas and Navy — and drastically improved conference foes.
The lack of physicality hurt the team in the running game, which cut off the Trojans’ ability to sustain drives and convert on short yardage. It also affected the defense, which stayed on the field longer. Add it up and it’s easy to see why Troy only averaged 88.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranked 117th nationally.
After some re-evaluating, Blakeney and his staff stressed the need to get physical on every unit of the team — especially in the running game — during the spring, which will be a big factor in getting Troy back on track this fall.
“It (run game) is an area that we’ve tried to address this offseason,” Blakeney said. “We’ve changed some things. We’ve become a more physical — not physical enough yet — offensive football team up front with the way we have finished runs during the spring. I was really pleased with that.
“We’ve got a good hold on what we need to do, and I think we’ve been a better running football team, certainly better than 100 yards per game, or at least equal to that right now, and hopefully better. And it really sets you up for some great drives and drive starters and a way to convert 3rd-and-mediums.
“We think we’ve got a good concept with some things that we’re doing, and calling, the way we’re calling it sometimes, so we’re excited about that and we hope its something we can continue to evolve and develop through fall camp.”
With the return of three starting offensive linemen (guards Kyle Wilborn and Zach Johnson and right tackle Terrence Jones) and a great one-two punch at tailback — the explosive Shawn Southward and powerful D.J. Taylor — the Trojans hope to get the ground game back to respectability.
Southward followed a junior season, in which he rushed for 556 yards and four touchdowns, with a great spring. Blakeney complimented Southward, and Taylor, a senior, for their efforts.
“I hope I’m not looking through rose-colored glasses, but (D.J.) Taylor and (Shawn) Southward really took the bull by the horns. They both did a good job of finishing runs, which was good to see.” Blakeney said.
Taylor, a big (6-0, 230), physical back, broke off several long runs during spring scrimmages. Last season, he rushed for 367 yards on 82 carries and scored six times. He also caught 15 passes out of the backfield. But when it boils down to it, Troy’s longtime coach thinks running the football and being physical comes down to one thing: attitude.
“It’s just attitude. We’ve got to be a more physical football team and sometimes the way we address the offensive side, we are not as good on defense,” Blakeney said, “and we’re not good enough to run it when we need to, have to and want to. But (the run game) over the years, it’s been good to us, except for last year.”
So following the disappointing season a year ago, the Trojans are looking to rebound in a big way. With the recent success of the program, there’s no reason to think that won’t happen in 2012. But it all starts with being more physical.
“We’ve been champions; we’ve won a bunch of games, been to some bowls, but we’ve got to readdress where college football is, where the Sun Belt is, where our competition is. And we’ve got to be a more physical running football team, which will help us on offense and defense.”