By David Fong
TROY — Matt Burgbacher didn’t have to look far to find anecdotal evidence to keep his players focused this week.
“Greenville is just a tough place to play,” the Troy football coach said. “For whatever reason — I don’t know if it’s the long bus ride, the walk from the school to the stadium or whatever it is — but it just seems like teams struggle when they go over there. I remember when I was a player at Tippecanoe in 1992, we had a a really good team that year. We went 9-1 — our only loss was to Greenville.
“This week, (linebackers) Coach (Jason) Manson was telling the kids about how he played on a state-ranked Troy team in 1995 and they went over to Greenville and lost. That was the only (regular season) game Troy lost that year. I believe that was the only league game Troy lost in four years. They are a good team, and it’s a tough place to play.”
Burgbacher’s point is clear: his Troy team (7-1, 3-0 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division) can’t afford to take anything for granted when it travels to Greenville (3-5, 0-3 in the American North) this week.
“Our kids will have to be mentally prepared to play this game,” Burgbacher said. “It’s like we’ve been saying all season long — the best team doesn’t always win, but the team that plays the best football for 48 minutes that day will win. We’ve got to go over there and be ready to play our best for 48 minutes.”
There’s one thing Greenville does that immediate stands out to Burgbacher.
“Their defense is one of the better ones we’ll see,” he said. “If you take away the 44 points they gave up against Trotwood and the 38 points they gave up against Piqua, this is a team that is only giving up seven or eight points a game.”
Greenville’s defense is giving up 249.6 yards per game — sixth out of 20 teams in the GWOC — and just 13.3 points per game, third overall in the GWOC, even with the Trotwood and Piqua games factored in.
And even that figure is misleading, as the Green Wave’s offense has surrendered four touchdowns on interceptions and fumble returns for touchdowns this season, while the offense and special teams units have committed four safeties.
“If you take away the fumble returns, interception returns and safeties the defense really didn’t have anything to do with, they’ve only given up about 100 points all season. They are impressive.”
Greenville’s defense is led by senior linebackers Logan Eldridge and Justin Brown. Eldridge leads the team with 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks and fumble recovery, while Brown has 63 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
“They’ll run a 3-4 most of the time, but they’ll also switch into a four-front,” Burgbacher said. “Their defensive line is good. Their job is to occupy blockers and allow those two linebackers to scrape and make plays. Eldridge is one of the best linebackers we’ll see all season. He’s one of the best at reading offensive lines and making plays. He’s great at working downhill. He’s quick.
“We’ve got to make sure we get a hat on a hat and make sure he’s blocked every time. If we don’t, he’s going to make plays. Eldridge is a football name over there in Greenville. I know his dad and uncle were both very good football players.”
Offensively, Greenville is led by … Eldridge and Brown.
In addition to being the team’s leading tackler, Eldridge also is the team’s leading rusher with 174 carries for 864 yards — fifth in the GWOC — and seven touchdowns.
“Offensively, you’ve got to stop Eldridge,” Burgbacher said. “They’ll line him up at tailback and Brown at fullback and they are going to run the ball. They are going to keep pounding the ball. Against Piqua, I think they ran the same play 10 times in a row at one point. They’ve got good size on their offensive line.”
At quarterback for the Green Wave is senior Kyle Phillips. He’s completed 33 of 97 passes for 482 yards and three touchdowns, along with eight interceptions.
“They can throw the ball when they need to,” Burgbacher said. “They’ve got speed on the outside. We’ve definitely got to be leery of the pass.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong