Taking the good with bad is I-A task for Troy State

Consistency bedevils Terps' next opponent

November 02, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Nebraska?

That's been the problem for No. 15 Maryland's next opponent, Troy State, a team that proves football smugness isn't confined to Top 25 programs, but also extends to those new to Division I-A.

Down the road, the Alabama school sees a conference affiliation, a new stadium, a rivalry with Alabama-Birmingham, perhaps, and some of the state's quality players coming its way. The end of that road came into sight sooner than expected with a win over Mississippi State last month.

"It's certainly easy to talk about that game," Troy State coach Larry Blakeney said of the Oct. 13 victory. "Most recruits have heard about it. Maybe we've earned a little credibility along the way."

For now, however, Blakeney wishes to put several solid weeks of football together. One week, the 4-3 Trojans beat the pants off a onetime Southeastern Conference contender, only to have their overconfidence result in scares at home against teams ragged even for Division I-AA.

It's a time for growing pains in the transitional season of Division I-A football for Troy State, which will receive $1.25 million in fees for its supposed cannon-fodder role against major-conference schools, but tends to battle apathy against such lesser teams as Nicholls State.

There are some adjustments to the high life that Blakeney said he doesn't know of yet, but, "The one we're having to cope with so far is coming from one of these big-time places like Nebraska. We didn't get ready to play that next week."

Playing the now-No. 2 Huskers (and losing, 42-14) was more rewarding than the team's trip seven days later to play not-so-highly regarded Middle Tennessee, a game that ended in a 54-17 loss.

Another sequence began with the Trojans playing top-ranked Miami tough for a half, then beating Mississippi State, 21-9, on the road. But then came a struggle to beat 1-6 Cal-State Northridge, 44-31, followed by a 20-17 win last week over 1-7 Southern Utah in which Troy was outgained, 237-159.

Blakeney said he doesn't worry about overlooking the Terrapins (7-1), who are coming off a 52-31 loss to Florida State last weekend. He hopes the intensity his team showed in its other money games will be on exhibit tomorrow.

"Now, we should be able to play well," the coach said. "We're talking about playing a team that's a world-class team this year. They're as good a team as we'll face."

Though new to Division I-A, Troy State has a rich football tradition.

Two national championships in Division II (1984 and 1987) prodded the Trojans' move to Division I-AA in 1993. Their success continued, with a .770 winning percentage over eight seasons, playoff appearances in all but one of those years and two trips to the national semifinals in 1993 and 1996.

Seeking to raise its profile outside of Alabama, the school's board of trustees approved a move to Division I-A. Troy State also hoped it could get its alumni to come to games.

"Over the years, we've lost them to Alabama and Auburn," said the school's athletic director, Jimmy Williams. "We weren't giving them what they wanted to spend their Saturdays doing. If we can get them on campus, we think that they might become more interested in what's going on on campus."

The program's elevation has elicited a strong response, not only on campus, but also in the community of Troy, which is 50 miles south of Montgomery. The citizens chipped in $4.5 million for a renovation that gave Richard M. Scrushy Field the 17,500-seat capacity it would need to meet standards for Division I-A.

Nearly 2,000 fans made the trip to Lincoln, Neb., for the team's season-opener, and about 1,500 traveled to the games at Miami and Mississippi State.

Despite some trepidation about traveling since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Williams said he expects 500 Trojans fans to come to College Park.

He joked about the Terps' turnaround. "When we signed up for this, this wasn't the Maryland team we'd planned on playing," said Williams, whose school will get roughly $175,000 from Maryland. "I need [$475,000] like I'm getting from Nebraska."

Maybe more, if you ask Blakeney, who considers facing Maryland's offense the worst of both worlds. He's noticed that the Terps have passed and run equally well of late, mimicking the challenges of Miami and Nebraska.

"They're not going to be as good, position-by-position, but what they do and the broadness of the schemes is what gives you trouble," he said. "They flat do it all. You just have to be prepared for it and ready to handle it all."

Troy State also presents challenges, running a spread offense led by four-year starter Brock Nutter, who has thrown for 1,306 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. The team's defense is led by linebacker Naazir Yamini, who has 74 tackles this season, including six for losses.

Next for Terps

Opponent: Troy State (4-3)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast pay-per-view/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 22

Troy State at a glance

Location: Troy, Ala., 50 miles south of Montgomery

Enrollment: 5,100

Nickname: Trojans

Affiliation: Division I-A independent

2001 results (4-3) Sept. 1 at Nebraska L, 14-42

Sept. 8 at Middle Tenn. L, 17-54

Sept. 22 Nicholls State W, 26-0

Oct. 6 at Miami L, 7-38

Oct. 13 at Miss. State W, 21-9

Oct. 20 Cal Northridge W, 44-31

Oct. 27 S. Utah W, 20-17

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