Running game going strong for Tigers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
There’s more than one way to put points on the scoreboard.
The Troup Tigers have proven that over the years.
During the 2016 and 2017 seasons, quarterback Montez Crowe was tossing the ball all over the field, compiling gaudy passing numbers while helping the Tigers enjoy back-to-back successful seasons.
Kobe Hudson took over at quarterback for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and he was one of the state’s most prolific players while leading a balanced offense.
As the Tigers prepared for the 2020 season, who would take the reins at quarterback and what the offense would look like was very much in question, a process that was complicated because of everything that was canceled because of Covid-19.
As the summer went along, though, it became obvious to the Troup coaches that freshman Taeo Todd was the man for the job, and he was at quarterback when the season kicked off against Harris County.
Todd’s forte is running the ball, and he has excelled in that area since that first game.
Throw in three talented running backs in Anthony Ferguson, Navontae Moss and AJ Tucker, along with a veteran and physical offensive line, and it’s no surprise that Troup’s offense has been defined by its ability to chew up huge chunks of yards on the ground.
That ground-and-pound style has become firmly established as the season has gone along, and the Tigers have developed into one of the top running teams in the state.
Following Saturday’s 32-29 loss to Carver that put the wraps on a 6-4 regular season, Troup is averaging 336 rushing yards per game while averaging close to nine yards per carry.
Against a Carver defense that hadn’t been giving up much of anything this season, Troup ran for 304 yards and averaged more than six yards per carry.
Leading the way is Todd, who has 1,392 yards with an average of 11 yards per carry, and he has 11 touchdowns.
Ferguson, Moss and Tucker have combined for more than 1,700 rushing yards with 18 touchdowns, and wide receiver Marquavious Kelley has also become a part of the running game, and he had a 65-yard touchdown against Carver.
“It’s been fun to watch those guys get after it,” said Paul Brewer, who became Troup’s offensive coordinator in 2019 after spending four seasons as the quarterbacks coach. “They’ve bought in and had some fun with it.”
It helps to have a dynamic, game-changing type of player at quarterback.
While the passing game is still a work in progress, Todd’s skills as a runner have been evident since day one, and he has been close to unstoppable of late.
In the final seven games of the regular season, a stretch where Troup went 6-1, Todd has run for nearly 1,200 yards, and that included a 160-yard effort against Carver. Todd had two touchdowns in that game, including a 50-yard run where he appeared to be about to be knocked out of bounds before he managed to stay upright and sprint down the sideline for the score.
While Brewer believed in Todd coming into the season, he also knew how challenging it would be for a freshman to play that position.
“You come into a season and you know you have a young quarterback,” Brewer said. “You see that he has ability, but you just don’t know how he’s going to handle pressure. Most ninth-graders just aren’t going to handle that pressure very well.”
The first game was a 28-14 loss to Harris County, and plenty went wrong for the Tigers, and Todd, but Brewer didn’t see any indication that his quarterback let it have a negative impact on him.
“After the first game where everything went wrong, if he was ever going to duck his head or bury his head, it would have been after that first game, but he’s tough,” Brewer said.
Troup lost its next two games to Callaway and Hardaway, but Todd ran for nearly 300 yards in a victory over Spencer, and that was the start of a six-game winning streak.
While Todd has been productive week after week, the running-back trio of Ferguson, Moss and Tucker has been effective as well.
Since the fourth game of the season, the Tigers have had at least 300 rushing yards in every game, and they’ve had at least two rushing touchdowns in all but one game this season.
With so many different players capable of carrying the ball, it’s guaranteed that whoever is in the game will be able to give 100 percent.
“We can have a fresh back every play, every drive,” said Tucker, who has scored seven touchdowns this season while rushing for more than 400 yards.
Moss, who has nearly 600 rushing yards and five touchdowns, said every back who enters the game is clear on what their role is.
“We all make sure once we get in, everybody knows what they’re supposed to do, what play they’re supposed to run,” Moss said.
The second-leading rusher on the team is Ferguson, who has more than 700 yards with 16 touchdowns, and he had a 96-yard scoring run in the season opener against Harris County.
“I think (the offense is) very dangerous, and capable of even more,” Todd said.
Todd has had some success throwing the ball this season, and he threw three touchdown pass against Kendrick on Oct. 15.
In key late-season games against LaGrange and Carver, though, Troup was almost exclusively a running team.
After a 16-14 win over Shaw, Troup had nearly three weeks before its next game, and Brewer and the other coaches looked at the offense and realized that staying on the ground was the best path to success.
“Let’s go look at everything and figure out what we do well, what we’re not doing very well, and see how we can maximize everything,” Brewer said. “We knew we had some physical kids, so let’s get after it.”
Leading the way is an offensive line that has been getting the job done.
It’s an offensive line that includes senior Royce White, who has committed to Memphis, as well as center Will Cooley, a multi-year starter.
PJ Jones, Braxton Truitt and Demetrius Heard have also been fixtures on the offensive line, and tight ends Ben Schweizer and Jake Lane have been key assets in the blocking scheme as well.
“We have a bunch of guys that don’t mind getting physical,” Brewer said. “Don’t go throw my 15-year-old quarterback to the wolves doing things he’s going to be really good at one day, but we know what he’s really, really good at right now.”
As Todd progresses, Brewer expects him to become an effective passer, but for the moment, his biggest weapon is his ability to make plays with his legs.
“As he gets a little seven-on-sevens, that’s going to surprise some people how well he can throw,” Brewer said. “Right now, I’m not sure he’s not one of the best runners I’ve seen around in a while.”