Boulder, Colo. – After a 2014 season that was dominated by Indiana and Wisconsin, Big Ten schools Michigan State and Minnesota start their search for relevance as they square off this Saturday in East Lansing, MI.
Both teams had their struggles last season, and it showed in the standings, as each team finished in the middle of the pack. Minnesota struggled against Ohio State, getting run over in their game, 55-7, and lost a close game to Iowa. Michigan State had the same problem with Indiana, getting demolished by the Hoosiers, 69-13, followed by losses to Ohio State and Michigan. The two sides split their matches last season, the Gophers taking the first, 26-17, at home, and the Spartans took the second, 35-20.
Minnesota Head Coach Chad Augeson is new to the program, taking over for Rob Holder, and looks to improve on the team’s 3-3 record last season.
“Considering I wasn’t around for last year’s season I’m able to start fresh this year,” said Augeson “So, going into Big Ten play we want to be a resilient team that competes at every contest, possession and in every match.”
The team will have to be resilient from the start after losing many of its key players in the offseason. All-Big Ten scrumhalf Jack Butterfield graduated, along with many of the Gophers’ starters, and All-Big Ten second row Chris Marais is playing with the Metropolis D1 side this season. This young team will be led by juniors Ty Leech and Zack Hanslee, both of whom started for the Gophers last season. They also welcome four freshman, three of which are on the front row, who are expected to make an immediate impact for the team.
While the Minnesota side will be physical up front, the Spartans are going to look to use their backs to outrun the strength of the Gopher forwards. Michigan State returns 10 starters from last year’s squad, including center Kyle Gallagher and wing Mike Vanderlaan.
“In preparing for Minnesota we’ve been focusing on our rucking technique,” Spartans Vice President Andy Boyd said, “as well as making sure we play our game plan, to force the Gophers to play our way -not theirs.”
Both teams have high expectations going into the season, but will have to go through each other in order to reach that ultimate goal, a Big Ten Championship.