MARSHALL - Having beaten the Mankato East Cougars three times over the past two seasons, including twice in 2011, one could assume that the Marshall Tigers had their Section 3AAAA foes all but figured out.
However, shakeups to both teams leave the Tigers unsure of what to expect from the Cougars.
"Well, it's different," Marshall head coach Terry Bahlmann said. "They're bringing back their previous coach, Eric Davis, after a few years away."
Photo by Travis Andries
Marshall quarterback Austin Saugstad (3) sets to throw as running back Brock Baumgarn (25) prepares for a block during the Tigers’ practice Wednesday afternoon at Marshall High School. The Tigers host the Mankato East Cougars to open up their 2012 season Friday at Mattke Field.
Davis, who returned to Mankato East in April after leaving in 2008, has spent time as an assistant coach at Minnesota State-Mankato, and, most recently, as an offensive assistant with the Tigers' former section rival, the Mankato West Scarlets.
With a new coach on the opposite sideline, Bahlmann and his coaches have been forced to jettison much of their previous gameplan where the Cougars is concerned.
"We're sort of going in with the unknown with what they're going to run," Bahlmann said. "We'll be coaching on the fly and we're prepared for a lot of different things. We'll just see what happens Friday."
The Tigers have a few unknowns of their own. With an almost entirely new offensive backfield, the Marshall coaches are more concerned about limiting mental mistakes than anything the Cougars might throw at them.
"We're probably more worried about how we execute right away, that we're lined up correctly," Bahlmann said. "But the kids have had summer and have done of good job of getting ready to go."
Quarterback Austin Saugstad, who will make his first start under center for the Tigers on Friday, will be looked upon to help the Tigers keep the mistakes minimal and maintain the efficiency of an offense that scored 114 points on Mankato East over two games in 2011. Though the coaches expect the score to dip slightly in 2012, they do expect the Tiger offense to move the ball on their opponents.
"Austin's a very strong, capable leader. He's going to do things different, and every quarterback is, but we think he's going to be very effective," Bahlmann said.
Saugstad, a senior, will also have an important role to play on the defensive side of the ball. Making the move to safety, he will again be viewed as a calming influence for a defensive backfield that lost key members to graduation last spring.
While the offensive and defensive backfields have experienced an overhaul to start the season, the Marshall defense does return a bulk of last year's top unit that held the Cougars to 34 total points in their two meetings.
"We return our front seven basically, even some of our alternates up front," Bahlmann said. "So just like offense, our front is going to be a strength. (Stephen) Womack and (Alex) Werner at linebacker return, and we took Saugstad and moved him to a safety.
"And Brock Baumgarn, we moved him to a corner so that gives us some senior leadership there. We're hoping our front seven lets our secondary settle in."
Comfort for the Tigers is one thing, but the players are in no mood to let their opponents settle in. When the time the Tigers kick off against the Cougars Friday night at 7 p.m. at Mattke Field, 18 days will have passed since Marshall opened up camp. The players' anticipation for the first game of the season is starting to show through at practice.
"(The intensity)'s picking up," Bahlmann said. "It's time to play. And it's time to hit somebody else. They're tired of hitting their buddies. Let's go get some other guys."