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Kansas State Football: Opening Thoughts on Troy

The defending Sun Belt Champs got that dog in ‘em.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 04 Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How’s it going y’all. Normally I’ll do more post game review, but I didn’t feel like it was warranted after the SEMO beat down. We all saw what happened. Kansas State played like the bullies they are and the undermanned SEMO squad didn’t stand a chance. I like having a game like this to open the season in order to work the kinks out, but I’m not sure we know much more about the ‘Cats now than we did before the game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great the team didn’t play with their food. That’s an improvement from years past, but honestly, this team is miles ahead of early Klieman-era teams in terms of talent, and that showed on Saturday.

This week is the start of the real season. Troy is no joke, and has enough talent on both sides of the ball to win the game. I’m not saying they’re going to win, they’re a three-possession underdog for a reason, but I can envision a scenario where Troy wins. That wasn’t the case with SEMO, and I’ve got a wild imagination.

Troy believes they are going to win this game. Some G5 teams are happy to check out a new campus, pick up a paycheck, and head back home. Not Troy. They are heading to Manhattan with the intention of kicking Wildcat ass. They finished last season 12-2 and come in on a 13-game win streak. Sometimes G5 teams need to build belief throughout the game, but Troy will have that belief coming out of the locker room. This game will be a battle from the opening kick, and K-State is going to have to earn everything.

It all starts with Troy head coach Jon Sumrall. The former Kentucky linebacker is one of the hottest names in college football. Considered a defensive savant, Sumrall came to Troy after a stint as the linebacker coach/co-defensive coordinator at Kentucky. All he knows how to do is win. He posted a 12-2 record in his first season, not only at Troy, but as a head coach, and it’s not like he walked into a great situation. Troy finished 2021 at 5-7, including a 3-5 Sun Belt record, and fired Chip Lindsey with one game left on the schedule. This wasn’t a case of Sumrall walking into a loaded G5 team after the coach moved up to a Power 5 (last year I can say that) program. This was a struggling G5 program that he turned around in one season. Also, in terms of G5 conferences, the Sun Belt is one of the best. Oh, and Sumrall is only 41 years old (I say only because I’m 42 and want to feel better about things). It wouldn’t surprise me to see him coaching a Power ? (4 maybe, Power 3 1/2...who knows) team in the near future. He’ll have his guys ready to go on Saturday.

In a way, this is a doppelganger match-up. At the end of the day, K-State and Troy want to do the same thing. They want to physically dominate their opponent. In Troy’s opening game against a talented Stephen F. Austin team, the Trojans ran the ball for 342 yards. Last season their star tailback, Kimani Vidal, rushed for 1,132 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the opener he ran for 248 yards on 25 carries. That’s a robust 9.9 yards a tote, but he somehow didn’t manage to score a touchdown. I wonder what the most rushing yards in a game without a touchdown is, because 248 has to be close.

Vidal is a freak. He’s only 5’8”, but weighs 215 pounds. They called former Boise State and Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin “the muscle hamster” because he was 5’9”, 220. Vidal’s an inch shorter and only 5 pounds lighter. Like Deuce Vaughn, he gets behind his O-line and disappears, only when he pops out the other side he’s looking for a linebacker to truck. Seriously, Vidal will drop the hit stick on a linebacker if the backer doesn’t get low and initiate contact. If a safety or linebacker tries to catch tackle him (not sure if I made that phrase up) instead of attacking him, he’ll leave them flat on their back staring at the sky. Tackling was an issue for K-State at the end of last season, it will be tested on Saturday.

In addition to Vidal, 6th year senior quarterback Gunnar Watson chipped in with four touchdowns and an interception. He only threw for 198 yards, but that’s mainly because Vidal was picking up a first down on the ground on almost every carry. Watson did a nice job of finishing off drives with touchdown passes when things got tight in the red zone. Like Vidal, Watson won’t be intimidated on Saturday. He’s seen all there is to see in college football over his career at Troy. This team will have two experienced, tough football players in the backfield.

Luckily, as tough as Troy is on offense, they appear to have sprung a leak on defense. They gave up 17 points in the 2nd quarter (granted 7 of those points came from an SFA scoop and score) and another 10 points in the 4th quarter. Throw in SFA’s first quarter field goal, and they gave up 30 points to an FCS school. Last season only one team (App State) cracked 30 points against them. That includes holding Ole Miss to 28 points in the opener, when Troy wasn’t sure how of how good they were yet. At the end of the season, they held Coastal Carolina’s explosive offense to 26 points, and then held 22nd ranked UTSA to 12 points in the Cure Bowl. I’m glad K-State is playing them early, because Coach Sumrall will have them playing tough late, once his new players settle into the system.

While their offense returned both Vidal and Watson, their defense lost star linebacker, Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, and leading tackler Carlton Martial to graduation. To make things worse, they also lost their second leading tackler, defensive back Craig Slocum to graduation. In fact, they graduated their top three tacklers from last season. Coach Sumrall has to replace the heart of his defense from last season, and it might take a few weeks for everything to shake out.

The last thing to keep in mind about Troy is they’re not a squad of college football mercenaries. They have several transfers from big name schools on the roster, but at their heart, they’re a bunch of country Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida dudes that got passed over by bigger programs, or failed to make their mark at a big program, and they play with a chip on their shoulder. It’s similar to the Kansas kids that walk-on to K-State after getting passed over and spend the rest of their career punishing teams that didn’t think they were good enough. This is a Troy team that plays every game to prove a point, and there is no better way to do that than knocking off the 15th ranked, defending Big 12 Champs on the road. I guarantee they’ve had this game circled since the end of last season.

Strap in folks, pads will be popping on Saturday. I think the Wildcats eventually grind down the Trojans, but don’t be surprised if this thing is uncomfortably close for a while. If it’s not, and the ‘Cats dominate, something truly special could be brewing in Manhattan, Kansas.