By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
His team now 0-2 with two-time Arkansas Class 7A champion Fayetteville coming in for the Indian Bowl home opener Friday, Muskogee head coach Josh Blankenship insists he’s upbeat.
And he’ll bring out the videos to back it up.
Yes, those are the Sand Springs and Owasso game films he’s talking about.
“On film we’re a lot closer than it feels on Friday,” he said.
That includes not only a defense that came up with four turnovers and had given up just 15 first-half points to Owasso, but an offense that has struggled to establish much of anything in two games, most of that falling on an inexperienced offensive line.
“One guy does things a little differently here and there and it makes a difference. It’s all correctable and we knew going in to the season that these guys while having the ability, would need to jell. You see there’s a loss and there’s no production but you put it on film and you’re real close,” Blankenship said.
Defensively, the progress he’s seen has him believing they can match up with a Fayetteville team that is more or a running, two tight-end offense. A better matchup would be a welcome change compared to last year’s spread and aerial offense. That unit helped beat the Roughers 55-14 behind University of Arkansas signee Austin Allen, who had 317 passing yards before not seeing action in the second half. The Bulldogs scored on all six first-half possessions.
Mackenzie McCall will go both ways Friday – at linebacker on defense and after getting a few carries in last week’s contest at running back, will see a bigger share of that load, especially with Sammy Richardson’s departure from the team over the weekend due to a violation of team rules.
McCall is bigger (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) than sophomore Tyriq Beasley (5-2, 130), which gives the senior an extra burst that the smaller Beasley hasn’t had within the framework of this line, which returned no starters, one player who transitioned from backup linebacker to center and another who hasn’t played since his freshman season.
With a more seasoned group up front, McCall had 119 yards on 12 carries in last year’s season opener against Sand Springs but suffered both a high ankle sprain on his right ankle and a low sprain on his left ankle.
He didn’t return in the second half and by the time he was back for week five, he was moved to defense and his carries on offense were few and far between from that point on.
“I missed it but being on the field anywhere is a joy for me,” McCall said.
McCall leads the defense in tackles with 21.
“I think he’s more naturally a defensive player. I don’t know if he’s our best running back or not. He might be,” Blankenship said.
“Even after he got healthy last year, the thinking at the time was we won’t have a chance if our defense isn’t any better so I made up my mind our best players would play defense and we could roll them in on offense.”
That wasn’t the coach’s thinking at the start of last year.
“The offensive coach in me decided I desperately wanted a running back,” he said.
McCall admits he likes playing defense more.
“I just feel like being a senior and captain for my team, it’s my responsibility to fill in wherever I’m needed and if I’m needed there to help make the run game effective, then I’ll do it.”
Blankenship made it clear he’s not hanging that responsibility on McCall.
“Both him and Tyriq are capable,” he said. “But ultimately, we’ve got to get things ironed out up front.”
Until then, McCall is more than willing to do what he can on both sides.