Head coach Norman Joseph remains optimistic, despite two losses to start the season. The Choctaws have been outscored 87-26.
“I never would have believed we would be 0-2.” said Joseph. A promising preseason led the coach to excitement, which has been resilient through the defeat.
“We still have our goals ahead of us,” he said. “We can still be conference champions.”
In preseason polls, the Choctaws were predicted to be the fourth best team in the American Southwest Conference. MC will begin its ASC schedule in October, with Hardin-Simmons coming to play in Clinton on October 5.
“Having that cushion is a big help,” said Stacey Dillard, who started the second game at quarterback. “We have been able gel together, and learn what it takes to win a game.”
The Choctaws will travel to Florida this weekend to play Webber International University.
“It would be nice having a victory going into our conference games,” said Joseph.
MC beat WIU last season in Clinton, when Jonathon Redd threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to Alex Archer that put MC up 31-24, with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
Redd and Archer are both still on the team, though Redd sat out the second game due to a shoulder injury that occurred in practice.
“Going into the season, I felt like we had two top-notch quarterbacks,” said Joseph, who added that Redd’s health is day-to-day. “I am not afraid to start either one of them.”
Dillard got his first collegiate start this week as a result of Redd’s injury, but claimed he did not feel pressure going into the game. “I run with the (starters) all the time in practice, so I am pretty comfortable with it.”
Redd should be healthy for the game at WIU, but Joseph did not reveal who would start at QB.
“That’s coach’s decision,” said Dillard succinctly.
Both players have comparable stats after each starting one game, but Dillard has thrown for a better percentage, more yards and has not given up an interception, where Redd has.
Turnovers have been a particularly tough issue for the Choctaws. In the game against Huntingdon, MC lost 4 fumbles, leading to a 35-7 defeat.
“We are just shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Dillard, who had two fumbles in the game. “We need to be more careful with the ball. If you lose the turnover battle, you most likely lose the game.”
MC has lost the turnover battle, 7-2 after two games. “Its just a lack of focus,” said Joseph, insuring that the issue would be a point of concentration in practice. “We aren’t giving ourselves a chance.”
If Choctaws overcome their turnover woes, they may have a chance. Adjustments between the first and second game led to much better play on special teams, both in returning kicks and coverage on kickoffs.
Another glaring issue is the running game, which has yet to gain much ground. Huntingdon dashed for 292 yards against the MC, who only netted 68 yards.
“We need to work on the run game,” said Joseph, “both offensively and defensively.”
MC has talent at QB, and preseason All-American Archer at wide receiver. The defense has been trustworthy in passing situations. Improvements to special teams made a difference against Huntingdon, and should be reliable in the future.
If MC can retain possession of the ball, it may be enough to beat Webber, who is 1-2 on the season thus far.
The Choctaws kick off Saturday at 2 pm. Fans can listen to the game on 93.5 FM or online at gochoctaws.com.
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor