Football Ken Rogers – TroyTrojans.com
Keyshawn Swanson saw the play that vaulted Troy over Texas State with the clarity of a composer completing an overture.
Swanson, a Troy safety, saw the formation and the tight end shift to his side and knew a rub route was coming. He plotted his angle before Texas State quarterback Brady McBride was forced to hurry his throw in the face of a ferocious pass rush from linebacker Jayden McDonald.
It was after Swanson cradled the interception near the sideline that everything “was a blur.”
It will look good to him on film. Swanson, a former walk-on transfer from Akron, returned it 33 yards for Troy’s game-winning touchdown with 8:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Describing what he saw on the play was easier than describing how good it felt.
“It was an amazing feeling. It was surreal,” said Swanson, a redshirt freshman strong safety from Pensacola. “I couldn’t even feel my feet.”
His pick was the second of three fourth-quarter interceptions by the Trojans, who improved to 4-3 on the season and to 2-1 in Sun Belt Conference play.
Ironically, each of those picks were provided by transfers. Sophomore Taiyon Palmer, from Lawrenceville, Ga., by way of North Carolina State, started the frenzy. And freshman Elijah Culp of Charlotte, N.C., through Austin Peay, preserved the victory with a third interception in Troy territory with 6:29 remaining.
It was the first career interception for all three Trojans. Swanson’s return for a touchdown was Troy’s second interception return for a TD this season – and the third consecutive season, the Trojans have returned at two picks to the end zone.
Certainly, Troy’s front seven has gotten the lion’s share of attention this season. The Trojans entered the game leading the country in tackles for loss per game (9.83) and sacks per game (4.5). They had four sacks and seven tackles for loss on Saturday.
They also held Texas State to just 91 rushing yards in the game. Troy improved to 10-0 under head coach Chip Lindsey and defensive coordinator Brandon Hall when holding teams to less than 100 yards rushing. It was the fourth time this season that Troy has held its opponent under the century mark.
The continued improvement of Troy’s secondary has helped the front seven. The development of Culp, Swanson and Palmer adds depth in the back end, depth that was sorely missing from Lindsey and Hall’s first two seasons.
“Taiyon Palmer transferred here this season, a guy we think is really talented,” Lindsey said. “He’s been rotating in and play. Man, he showed up big with that interception.
“Keyshawn’s a walk-on kid that earned an opportunity to play. He keeps getting better every week. He’s been so impressive with how he’s gone about his business and worked to improve.”
Culp has started at cornerback every game this season. He had a tough night in Troy’s loss at ULM and South Carolina tested him repeatedly early the next Saturday. Instead, he fought through the adversity and made plays. Culp leads Troy defensive backs with three pass breakups.
Lindsey said Culp doesn’t back down, which is a requirement with how Troy plays defense.
“Playing corner in man coverage is a lonely thing,” Lindsey said. “It’s almost like playing quarterback. You get too much blame and too much credit. It’s a lonely position, and he sure did rebound and made a big pick for us.
“The more he plays and the more reps he’s gotten, the more he’s improved. He just needed some opportunities. He keeps getting better. It’s a hard deal, now, playing that position with what we ask them to do. He’s risen to the challenge very well.”
Culp has made 20 tackles this season and was credited with a half tackle for loss. Palmer has made nine tackles and broken up two passes in limited action.
Swanson has made nine tackles, including one on Saturday in addition to his pick-six. The transfer from Akron loves the system and loves playing for Hall.
“He recruited me. I started out as a walk-on, but he believed in me and put me in some big-time situations,” Swanson said.
He added his improvement is coming as he gets more familiar with the playbook.
“Just understanding the ins and outs, I came in more prepared,” Swanson said. “I knew I had to step up this week. It was more preparation and being able to put myself in the right position at the right time to make the play.”