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College football season preview: Bulldogs go into season with new faces at QB

After nearly a decade of stability at quarterback with four-year starters Ted Schlafke and Chase Vogler, Minnesota Duluth enters its 2013 season opener on Saturday against Sioux Falls planning on playing two quarterbacks.

Eric Kline
UMD backup quarterback Eric Kline looks to pass the ball during practice Wednesday afternoon at Malosky Stadium in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

After nearly a decade of stability at quarterback with four-year starters Ted Schlafke and Chase Vogler, Minnesota Duluth enters its 2013 season opener on Saturday against Sioux Falls planning on playing two quarterbacks.

Redshirt freshman Drew Bauer has earned the starting nod against the Cougars, but first-year UMD head coach Curt Wiese said sophomore Eric Kline, a transfer from NCAA Division I South Dakota State, will also likely play.

"Sometimes when you start a young quarterback it's important for those guys to sit out and watch a couple plays instead of having everything folding on top of them," Wiese said. "I think having two guys sometimes alleviates that pressure where the team doesn't depend on them to make every single play. Both these guys have earned the trust of our team and our offense."

Both quarterbacks were recruited to fit into the UMD blueprint that helped the Bulldogs win NCAA Division II titles in 2008 and 2010, a scheme that relies heavily on the run and heady quarterback play.

Bauer is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, while Kline is 6-4, 215. Both players are dual threats running and throwing the football, but Wiese said he wouldn't know exactly how good they are at running the football until he sees them in real game situations.

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"To be honest, until the lights come on Saturday night, we don't know how either one of those guys is going to play," Wiese said. "It's tough in practice because we don't hit our quarterbacks to find out what those guys are all about as far as moving in the pocket and pocket escapability."

In terms of pocket escapability, Vogler was Houdini.

Vogler tied for the team rushing lead last fall with 893 yards and 17 TDs. He not only finished as UMD's all-time winningest quarterback but also the program's top rushing quarterback.

Bauer was raised just a short walk from where Vogler grew up in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., but Bauer attended Eagan High School while Vogler attended Rosemount. Bauer said his game is similar to Vogler's, with plenty of freelancing.

"I ended up with a lot of carries, but they weren't all designed runs," Bauer said. "Sometimes a play breaks down and I'd run it."

Wiese isn't exactly passing over the offensive keys to a Pinto -- or a Ferrari -- here. A bulldozer would probably be the best analogy for a UMD offense that averaged 280 rushing yards per game last season, paving the way to a 10-2 season.

Seniors Tom Olson and Grant Snobrich return to anchor the offensive line, while receivers Zach Zweifel, Aaron Roth and Joe Reichert are all back. Junior Austin Sikorski (151 rushes, 893 yards) and sophomore Logan Lauters (121-703) are gifted runners who have power and speed.

"We had a talk with Austin and Logan and told them, 'Somebody has to start the game, but in our eyes, you're both starters,'" Wiese said. "They're 1A and 1B. The complement each other well."

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With all that offensive firepower, Bauer knows he has to provide leadership and headiness as much anything.

"I'm more excited than nervous," Bauer said. "I look at it like this: if I'm not nervous, than what am I doing playing football? It's kind of those good jitters that every football player lives for. Being the starting quarterback job has always been in my mind, but with that comes a lot of hard work and dedication to get to that spot."

With that said, Bauer was asked what he thought about splitting time under center.

"I just have to go out there and perform and not look over my shoulder," Bauer said. "I can't be conscious about that. I just have to go out there, play my game and have fun. I have to play with leadership and composure."

  • UMD's offense could have a slightly new look this season after Wiese was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach. Macalester College offensive coordinator Dan Larson was then brought in to take over the offensive reins. Bauer said Larson has added a couple of wrinkles, but he wouldn't say what.

    "We'll see Saturday," Bauer said with a laugh.

  • Bauer won the starting quarterback nod after a battle with Kline and senior Brent Jorgensen in preseason camp. Wiese said Bauer was more consistent but Kline was impressive considering he was new to the system. Wiese was also impressed with their attitude. "Whenever you name a starting quarterback, you certainly find out a lot about the character of the guys behind them," Wiese said. "Both Kline and Jorgensen have been nothing but positive. They're team guys who understand you have to support the guy who is on the field. They've embraced that."

    UMD LOOKS TO GET DEFENSIVE

    The Bulldogs return their entire front seven from last season and expect to be much improved after a second consecutive year under defensive coordinator John Steger's system. UMD struggled defensively in its two losses last fall, giving up a combined 108 points. At times the Bulldogs appeared undermanned dealing with injuries and illnesses.

    "But those are excuses, and we're not making excuses," Wiese said. "Those guys know Coach Steger's system inside and out now. Coach puts a lot on their plates, but we're very pleased with how they have been able to handle it this fall. We're expecting a lot out of them this season."

    Chris Vandervest and Buma Foncham, a Duluth East graduate, are standouts up front, while senior Colby Ring is the leader of an experienced linebacker corps. The secondary has four seniors listed as starters for Saturday's game, including free safety Jason Carlson, a transfer from Iowa State. In all, UMD has 21 seniors.

    "I think the strength of our team is going to be leadership," Wiese said. "Almost all of those seniors have been in our program for four or five years. We're going to rely on those guys to carry the torch of Bulldog football."

  • Related Topics: FOOTBALL
    Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

    After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

    Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

    Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

    Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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