By David Fong
TROY — On the heels of a 2-8 season one year ago, there were plenty of questions surrounding the Troy football team entering this season.
Just two weeks into the season, the Trojans — who, at 2-0, already have matched their win total from one year ago — have certainly answered some, but by no means all, of those questions.
Plenty of questions still remain — and undoubtedly new ones will arise as the season goes on — for the Trojans.
But, two weeks into the season, what have we learned about the Trojans so far this season?
Here are five things we definitely know about the Troy football team in the early stages of the season:
1) The defense is much improved
Although just two weeks in, it already seems as though this is a fair statement to make. Last season, the Trojan defense gave up 32.3 points per game, 17th out of 18 teams in the entire Greater Western Ohio Conference. This season, the Trojans have given up six points to Trotwood-Madison and 14 points to Cincinnati Northwest.
It bears mentioning the six points the Trojans gave up to the Rams came on a 14-yard drive after a turnover deep in Trojan terriotory. For all intents and purposes, Troy’s defense pitched a shoutout against a normally high-powered Ram offense. Against Northwest, Troy gave up one touchdown on a busted play and one touchdown on a long pass in which the coverage was good, but Northwest receiver Ronnell Turner simply made a spectacular play.
It also should be noted Troy give up 20 points in two games to two teams that have proven offenses. Following the loss to Troy, Trotwood scored 38 points this past Friday against a very good Piqua defense, while Northwest scored 40 points — including 33 in the first half alone — in a 40-0 victory over Western Hills in the season opener.
Thanks in large part to time spent in the offseason with strength and conditioning coach Aaron Gibbons, the Trojans are bigger, stronger and faster than they were a year ago. Most imp0rtant of all, Troy is a much better tackling team than it was last season.
2) Troy’s offensive line is coming together
Troy returned just one full-time starter, senior Travis Hall, from last season’s offensive line. And considering he made the move from guard to tackle during the offseason, Troy essentially began the season with new starters at all five offensive line positions.
The new offensive line — tackles Hall and senior Dylan Sedam, junior guards Kameron Block and Drew Smith, and junior center Rase Darrow — are coming along quickly. They had some growing pains in the season opener against Trotwood, but give credit to Trotwood’s defensive line for that — it may be one of the best in the area.
Troy’s offensive line made a huge leap from Week 1 to Week 2. It should only continue to get better as the season goes along, it gains more experiences and it gels as a unit.
Also, depth was a concern going into the season, but when Block suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury and didn’t play the second half against Northwest, junior Logan Hubbard stepped right in and the Trojans continued to move the ball the final 24 minutes.
3) Hayden Kotwica is dangerous running as throwing
One year ago, Kotwica, Troy’s quarterback, threw for a school-record 2,021 yards. If he doesn’t reach that lofty total again this season, he may have himself, in part, to blame.
Before the season started, Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said, “If you want to play quarterback at Troy, you have to be able to run the ball.”
Kotwica was certainly proved he’s more than capable of doing just that, leading the Trojans in rushing each of the first two games. Against Trotwood, he had 21 carries for 81 yards and Troy’s lone touchdown. Against Northwest, he had 19 carries for 91 yards and another touchdown.
His ability to run the ball may skew his passing numbers this season — but may also ultimately add to the most important number of all: Troy’s number of victories.
4) It’s running back by committee
In addition to his skill running the ball, another reason Kotwica leads the team in rushing is because Troy’s running backs are splitting up the carries, which Burgbacher also promised in the preseason.
While Troy does not have a “featured back” in its offense, what it does have are three running backs — seniors Josh Browder and Marc Scordia, along with sophomore Sam Jackson — who are proving that, in some cases, two or three running backs can be just as effective as one.
The Trojans didn’t have a 100-yard rusher in either of its games, but what it does have is a backfield that has combined to rush for more than 100 yards in both against.
Against Trotwood, Browder had 12 carries for 49 yards, Jackson had nine carries for 45 yards and Scordia — who was still suffering the lingering effects of a preseason injury — had two carries for seven yards for a total of 101 yards.
Against Northwest, Browder had carries for 73 yards and a touchdown, Scordia had 14 carries for 52 yards and Jackson had seven carries for seven carries for 42 yards and a touchdown for a total of 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Throw in Kotwica’s rushing yards, and as a team the Trojans are averaging 220.0 rushing yards per game. Compare that to last season, when the Trojans averaged just 133.6 rushing yards per game.
5) There’s still room to grow
Burgbacher would be the first to admit that, as much of the Trojans already have proven this early in the season, there’s still plenty of room for improvement and still a long way to go.
Truthfully, the win over Trotwood probably shouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic. The Trojans had three drives inside the Trotwood 30 that didn’t result in any points, while also turning the ball over three times.
Against Northwest, Troy led 14-0 and had a chance to go up 21-0, but fumbled on the Knights’ 1-yard line. Minutes later, Troy forced a punt that would have given the Trojans the ball inside the red zone, but the ball hit a Trojan blocker on the return and Northwest recovered at its own 11. Troy turned the ball over twice against the Knights.
In two games, the Trojans have lost the turnover battle both times.
Troy will not be able to afford to make those same costly the mistakes the rest of the season against a schedule that doesn’t get any easier.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong