Muskogee’s offense has begun to find itself.
In spite of the 48-34 loss Friday at home against still-unbeaten Sand Springs, it amassed 554 yards — the second consecutive game with plus-500 yards of total yards.
Much slower is the progress of the defense. Much slower.
And it’s no secret.
“We as coaches have got to find players who want to go out and do what they need to do to be successful, and that includes picking things up and making fast habits,” head coach Travis Hill said Monday. “We’ve had some steady hands, but we’re still not where we need to be.”
Part of it is tackling. Part of it is something that really isn’t any different than the offense, and that is youth. But it’s youth that hasn’t quite progressed as well.
And it’s a team full of youth.
Deyon Bowler is an example of what can be, yet is still a sophomore, manning what’s known as an hybrid outside linebacker/roll down safety.
“He meets some of that criteria,” Hill said. “He has that mentality we’re looking for. It’s a process, but with him you have, well, he’s just what we call a ball player along the line of a ball coach — a guy who can go out there and coach or play anything.”
Bowler had six total tackles last week but as Hill noted, he was around the ball regularly.
That’s defensively speaking — but it could be either way.
It was as a freshman, playing with a freshman group that has seen its share of consistent winning success coming up through the system.
“Last year I played tight end, wide receiver, outside linebacker and true safety,” Bowler said. “I like what I’m doing now but eventually I feel like I want to get moved to a free safety spot. But we’ve got five sophomores on defense right now so I’m where I need to be.”
On one play last week, 6-foot-3, 200-pound Sand Springs quarterback Ty Pennington bounced outside on a keeper and had the 145-pound Bowler in his path. Bowler went one on one for the takedown.
“That was just making a simple tackle,” Bowler said. “I personally feel like I need to get better playing the run. At the same time I’m getting a lot better at knowing my reads and drops.”
Two of those defenders being depended on now had to unexpectedly step in for upperclassmen who were slotted there in the summer. In that group, leaders have to rise from the youth.
“I feel like I’m falling into that, even being a sophomore,” Bowler said.
And while the offense is ahead of the defense, the journey is only at the halfway point. Bowler is one who believes with every game, there will be improvement.
“We’ve just got to stay locked in and don’t make the games harder than they have to be,” said Bowler, drawing on some lessons from first-year defensive coordinator Steve Craver.
“Coach Craver says it’s really about Roughers versus the Roughers. As long as we don’t battle within ourselves, we will compete.”
• Offensively, Hill knew they would see the efficiency of the pieces when healthy and all began to fit into Chris Risenhoover’s multiple look scheme.
“We can still improve immensely up front,” he said. “And the good thing is when you look out there, they’re all underclassman.”
Except for Isaiah Givens, who Hill noted has become a better blocker as a guy coming out of the backfield or set in the flat. Taking advantage of what he called his versatility, Walker Newton is coming along as well. He was among those out early in the season due to injury.
“Now that he’s back and buying into what his role is, it definitely makes us a better football team,” he said. “He’s probably got the best hands of anyone on the team, right there with (Jayden) Bell. He runs well, is elusive and can throw and make people miss. He’s got a log of dynamics, which can make us more dynamic.”
Bell is leading the area in receiving yards with 434 on 24 catches. He is also one of the few two-way players. While some might ask why there’s not more of that, Hill explained.
“There’s a physical and mental ability to being able to not just go do the job but know the job and if you’re out there thinking instead of reacting as you would naturally, you lose time and time is critical in play making,” Hill said. “It’s not meant as a negative but you have these kids that can get away with some of this at a 3A level and it won’t hurt you so much because the guy across you may not always be physically better. But you don’t have that in 6AII, so you have to rely not just on athletic ability but doing things the right way.”
Bartlesville, he said, is an example of that. The Bruins, 1-4 with its only win in a 15-14 season opener against Claremore, host Muskogee on Friday. They’re 0-2 in the district so far so far, being outscored by Bixby and Tulsa Washington by a combined 137-0.
“They’ve gotten the dog beat out of them but when you look at the film, they’re doing things like execution the right way,” he said. “The difference is they don’t have the dudes that they’re going against and we know those are two loaded teams.”