Finishing it: Red Wolves close out regular season versus Troy
Though it might have felt like it thanks to the Thanksgiving break, the Red Wolves football regular season is not over yet.
After clinching at least a share of the Sun Belt Championship with a 45-19 victory over Middle Tennessee on Nov. 19, the Red Wolves (9-2, 8-0) will close out their regular season this Saturday against Troy, a team that split a share of the conference title last year and defeated Ohio in the New Orleans Bowl.
Under the leadership of 20-year head coach Larry Blakeney, the Trojans are in the midst of a 3-8 season with a 2-5 record in the Sun Belt.
Their three wins this season came against the now 3-9 Alabama-Birmingham, 2-9 Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic, who won their first and only game of the season Saturday against UAB.
However, the Trojans have not been without their share of success, even while it has been on the losing side.
"Troy is a team that has had a say in the outcome of this conference for the last 10 years," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "They're a dangerous team because of all of the athletes they have. We're talking about a team that played Arkansas to a 10-point game and we all know the season that Arkansas is having."
The game against Arkansas, a 28-38 loss in week three, was followed by two wins before the Trojans went on a six-game skid.
While Freeze said the Trojans have a dangerous passing game, ranked first in the conference ahead of ASU at second, their biggest weakness is on defense, which ranks last in the conference.
"They haven't been able to stop the run. If you can't stop the run, it certainly makes offenses think they can do a lot of things. I know that they have who I consider the best defensive end in the league in Jonathan Massaquoi."
Massaquoi, a 6-foot-2-inches junior, was named to the Bednarik Watch List, the award given to the nations best defensive linemen and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Watch List among nine other award watch lists.
Massaquoi averages a team high of half a sack a game.
Senior Brandon Joiner for the Red Wolves leads the Sun Belt with an average of one whole sack per game.
Defense has been the strongest aspect of the Red Wolves during this 2011 season as the defense still holds the title for total defense in the conference. While the Trojans have the best passing offense, led by Corey Robinson with an average of 281.8 yards per game, the 15th highest average in the country.
The Red Wolves have the best passing defense in the conference, giving up an average of 210 yards per game through the air.
Robinson, a sophomore, has thrown nine touchdowns over the last three games, giving him 47 on his career. That already places him third on Troy's all-time list.
With a win, the Red Wolves would lock up their first outright Sun Belt conference championship in a year that marks the end of Troy's streak of five seasons with at least a share of the conference championship.
Red Wolves receiver Josh Jarboe, who is second on the team with 48 catches for 650 yards and two touchdowns, will be facing the team that dismissed him following the 2009 season.
"It's good to see everyone I used to play with, but it's just business and another game for me," Jarboe said.
Saturday will also mark the final home game for 25 seniors at ASU Stadium.
Among the players taking their final bow will be running back Derek Lawson, linebacker Demario Davis, wide receiver Dwayne Frampton and defensive linemen Dorvus Woods and Brandon Joiner.
"Our seniors deserve to go out in a special way. They've led us brilliantly this year," Freeze said. "The seniors have been through a lot of lean times and for whatever reason they hadn't gotten over the hump in a lot of games."
Senior offensive lineman Tom Castilaw will be ending a six year journey at ASU.
"I think it's kind of surreal. It went by fast the whole season and really all six years that I've been here," the center said. "I wouldn't pick any other way to go out with 10 wins in the regular season. It's been the most memorable year I've ever had here.
"I know our hope is that we're starting something here, laying the foundations for the future teams that will be here as well," Castilaw continued.
With an undefeated home record on the line, the seventh meeting between the Red Wolves and Trojans will kick off at 3:30 p.m.
The game can be seen on ESPN3.com and heard on 107.9 FM.
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