There have been many games this bowl season that looked like blowouts. The 20th annual 2018 Dollar General Bowl was a fight to the finish for two teams in the MAC and Sun Belt. From the beginning of the game, the Buffalo Bulls and the Troy Trojans were looking towards a shootout. Through the game, a chess match took place where past experiences of the bowl season played the favor for Troy. Both the Trojans and the Bulls played insane and explosive tricks out of their playbook. In the end, the Troy defeats Buffalo in the 2018 Dollar General Bowl 42-32.
Trojans Get An Explosive Offense Going
It was a career night for Trojans quarterback Sawyer Smith and wide receiver Damion Willis in this bowl game. Throughout the night, Smith needed to be careful and make great throws. He also needed to lead the offense down the field without much of a run game. Smith was given freedom with the ball to make potential downfield passes rather than the typically designed plays such as screens. The Trojans scored on their first possession after Smith read a busted coverage on a 60-yard deep touchdown to receiver Tray Eafford. This was a common occurrence throughout the night as Smith made great reads on busted coverages from Buffalo.
Smith threw for 31 completions (out of 44 attempts) for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns. He was named the game MVP for his production in the air and as the leader for the Trojans offense. Receiver Damion Willis received the offensive MVP after a career-high 13 receptions for 101 yards for two touchdowns. Willis accounted for a seven-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter and a two-yard touchdown beginning in the fourth quarter. He was a receiver who was put into multiple different receiver packages as he was finally healthy from a turf toe late in the season. Overall, the Trojans offense accounted for 21 total 1st downs with 21 of them coming from pass plays. The Trojans surprised the Bulls defense by asserting their consistency through the air. This made great run-stoppers like Bulls linebacker Khalil Hodge a non-factor in this game staying in zone coverage.
Troy Keeps Buffalo’s Offense Off The Field Throughout 3rd Quarter
The Bulls went into halftime with a 17-14 lead despite committing three turnovers in the first half. After Troy scored on their first possession in the third quarter, head coach Neal Brown decided to go for an onside kick. Kicker Bratcher Underwood recovered his own onside kick and the Trojans continued their full possession of the third quarter. Eight plays into the Trojans’ second drive, running back B.J. Smith fumbled the ball at the Buffalo’s seven-yard line where Bulls safety Tyrone Hill returned the ball for a 93-yard touchdown. The Trojans recovered with a drive that killed the remainder of the third quarter.
The Trojans only accounted for seven points in the third quarter but that amount of time on the field punished the Bulls defense. Two plays into the fourth quarter, the Trojans scored on the two-yard connection from Sawyer Smith to Damion Willis. It was in the third quarter where the Trojans mixed a great combination of pass plays and run plays. Despite the fumble turned allowed touchdown, Smith was stellar in the third quarter. In the three possessions of the third quarter, Smith rushed 11 times for 76 yards (just under seven yards per rush) and a touchdown. This was the turning point of the game, with not only keeping the Bulls offense off the field but also wearing down the defense. Troy’s offense would eventually score 21 points in the following fourth quarter.
Troy’s Defense Slows Down Buffalo’s Explosive Offense
The Trojans offense stepped up in this game, but the defense played a huge role in stopping the Bulls. Troy’s defense had a tough task in this game of stopping the explosive offensive of Buffalo. This Bulls offense ranked 28th in the nation in points per game (34.8). Stopping Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson was going to be tough but Troy also needed to shutdown receiver Anthony Johnson. He is a projected third round receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft. Troy needed to get as much pressure as they could on Jackson despite the Bulls allowing 12 sacks all season. The Trojans found ways to make the Bulls offense falter in several different ways. Troy’s defense accounted for 4 total tackles for loss and 3 sacks.
Jackson would often force some of his passes to his receiver, once was into double coverage and picked off by Cedarius Rookard. Linebacker Carlton Martial was a clutch player as he accounted for six total tackles, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Rookard was voted as the defensive MVP of the game. Rookard accounted for a team-high eight total tackles, half a tackle for a loss, an interception, and a fumble recovery. An unsung hero for Troy was cornerback Blace Brown, who had to cover Bulls receiver Anthony Johnson throughout the game. Brown practically took Anthony Johnson’s impact with the Bulls’ offense as he accounted for only 5 receptions for 67 yards. The Trojans defense stepped up throughout the entire game and turned the Bulls’ strength their weaknesses.
Troy Gets Their Third Consecutive Bowl Win
The Troy Trojans continue to find success not only in bowl games but also as a dominant program. The Trojans won their third consecutive bowl game in a row by beating Buffalo. Last season, the Trojans dominated the North Texas Mean Green in the 2017 New Orleans Bowl 50-30. In 2016, the Trojans beat the Ohio Bobcats 28-23 in the 2016 Dollar General Bowl. In the past three seasons, the Trojans have accounted for a 31-8 record with Neal Brown as the head coach. Brown has accounted for a 35-16 record at Troy in his four seasons. This win over the Bulls and the early recruiting signing gives Troy a great start for 2019.