There’s apparently not a lot to do in Troy, Alabama. “I can drive past the two bars in town,” Trojans football coach Neal Brown told SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey, “and tell, without getting out, if one of our players is in there.” Here is what those two bars presumably look like after Troy’s 24-21 upset over LSU on Saturday:
Brown might not know how to dab—he’s the tracksuit-wearer who thinks dribbling an imaginary basketball through his legs with no regard for the song’s rhythm counts as a dance move—but the 37-year-old knows how to coach. Perhaps better than LSU’s Ed Orgeron, who finds himself in a lot of trouble in his first full year in charge of the Tigers.
Brown’s an Air Raid disciple, having played wide receiver for Hal Mumme and Mike Leach at Kentucky, but Saturday night wasn’t very Air Raid-y: Troy kinda bullied LSU, a team that began the year ranked no. 13 in the country and entered the game as 20.5-point favorites. On offense, Troy’s burly back Jordan Chunn got the ball 30 times and ran for 191 yards. And Troy troubled an LSU offense without its best player, running back Derrius Guice.
The Tigers played two quarterbacks, and both were ineffective behind an LSU line that really couldn’t withstand pressure from Troy. LSU starter Danny Etling exited the game at halftime “shaken up” from a hit, but he re-entered the game for final desperation drives after true freshman Myles Brennan threw a pivotal pick. The game was sealed when Etling threw an interception in the last six seconds. I’d say this was the biggest victory in Troy history, but the Trojans also have the biggest win in college basketball history as well as a pair of Division II national championships.
Let’s give a quick crash course on Troy, college football’s second-most popular Trojans. (And the only ones to win a game against a ranked opponent this weekend.) Use this as your soundtrack. Troy has been trying to pull this upset for over a decade. In 2004, the Trojans led LSU 20-17 in the fourth quarter, but the Tigers scored a game-winning touchdown with 2:30 left. In 2008, the Trojans led LSU 31-3, but gave up 37 straight points—30 in the fourth quarter alone—to lose a heartbreaker. (The worst late-game performance for Troy since the damn horse.) These games were tight but upheld the status quo. Before Saturday night, LSU hadn’t lost to an out-of-conference opponent at home in 49 games, a streak dating back to 2000. And the Trojans hadn’t beaten an SEC team in 19 tries—their last SEC victory was over Mississippi State in 2001, the program’s first year of Division I play.
But those numbers bely Troy’s under-the-radar success. The Trojans have produced two NFL Pro Bowlers in Demarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora, as well as an All-American in Leodis McKelvin. They won five consecutive Sun Belt championships from 2006 to 2010. (Three were split, but they still count.)
And the Trojans might be better than ever. Troy lagged in the last few years under longtime coach Larry Blakeney, who retired in 2014 after taking the program from Division II to Sun Belt prominence. But Brown got the Trojans 10 wins last year—for a hot second, they were ranked!—and they’re off to a 4-1 start this year.
But regardless of whether Troy is a good Sun Belt team or a bad Sun Belt team, LSU isn’t supposed to lose to Sun Belt teams. The Orgeron era has gotten off to a bad start. Week 3 brought a 37-7 walloping at the hands of Mississippi State. That might have been excusable if Mississippi State was good. Instead, the Bulldogs have lost their subsequent two games to Georgia and Auburn by a combined 67 points.
Even as somebody who very much approved of the Orgeron hire, I wrote about how the potential for failure was high. LSU was bidding against itself for Orgeron, a coach who wasn’t in consideration at any school where his Cajun accent would be out of place. And yet LSU committed to a five-year contract that would require a $12 million buyout—a buyout that means LSU can’t really treat this like an experiment. LSU’s stuck with him for now.
The firing of Les Miles had the potential to backfire; making his successor the team’s defensive line coach had the chance to backfire. It’s too early to say that the Orgeron era is doomed. But LSU hadn’t had a loss like this in almost two decades. It’s possible hiring a coach because he has a funny voice is not a good strategy for a team with national title hopes.