Cat Scratch Fever: Iowa Wrestling Fights Past Northwestern, 24-13

Two days after rebounding from the Oklahoma State loss with an overall solid win over a top-ten Nebraska team, Iowa returned home to take on Northwestern. The results were... underwhelming, in several cases. Iowa went 2-1 against Northwestern's three ranked wrestlers, including a very solid win from Ethen Lofthouse that avenged his defeat in the Midlands Championships earlier this season, but Iowa went just 1-2 in the virtual toss-up matches (149, 184, 197) of the dual and several weights that had been question marks earlier were no closer to being answered after this dual.

#4 Iowa 24, #17 Northwestern 13
HWT: #19
Mike McMullan DEC (7-5 SV) #8 Bobby Telford (iNW 3-0)
125: #2
Matt McDonough MAJ DEC (18-4) #7 Levi Mele (Iowa 4-3)
133: #2
Tony Ramos FALL (2:34) Jameson Oster (Iowa 10-3)
141: #3
Montell Marion MAJ DEC (21-7) Pat Greco (Iowa 14-3)
149:
Kaleb Friedley DEC (3-2) Mike Kelly (Iowa 14-6)
157: #3
Jason Welch MAJ DEC (17-4) Nick Moore (Iowa 14-10)
165: #9
Mike Evans MAJ DEC (11-0) Pierce Harger (Iowa 18-10)
174: #11
Ethen Lofthouse DEC (5-2) #9 Lee Munster (Iowa 21-10)
184:
Vinnie Wagner DEC (11-4) Robert Kellogg (Iowa 24-10)
197:
John Schoen DEC (2-1) #19 Grant Gambrall (Iowa 24-13)

* Taking care of business. McD, Ramos, Marion, Evans, Wagner. Iowa had four bonus-point wins and two of those wins (those by McD and Marion) and one non-bonus point win (Wagner's) were one point away from being even better results (although Marion's hypothetical technical fall would have still been worth only four team points, since he wasn't able to get any back points against Greco). Aside from McDonough, Iowa's other big winners faced fairly overmatched opponents, but they did precisely what you'd want them to do: dominate. Ramos took care of business the most emphatically: easily taking his opponent down before sticking him late in the third first period, but Marion also had his way with his opponent -- he was getting takedowns with almost laughable ease. It was unfortunate that he couldn't get Greco turned for nearfall points (or a pin), but he certainly tried hard (it looked like he was going to actually rip Greco's arm out of its socket a few points) and overall it was a good, dominating performance -- precisely the sort of thing we've been hoping for out of Marion.

Evans and Wagner took a little bit longer to get going, but eventually poured on the points against their opponents. Evans rode well and got in some good turns, while Wagner was able to get multiple takedowns in the last two periods. In fact, he had the major decision wrapped up after a late takedown, but opted to give his opponent an escape and try for one more takedown. That was a debatable decision: losing that team point didn't matter here and his aggressive attitude is very laudable, but in other situations it might be more prudent for Wagner to just take the major decision in hand. McD, meanwhile, continued to look impressive, getting takedowns easily against a quality opponent. He wasn't able to get the fall, though he seemed to be getting near to that (or at least more nearfall points, which would have led to a technical fall) before being stopped on a potentially dangerous call. McD continues to look very, very good out there.

* Revenge, Mormon-style. The biggest win of the meet -- in terms of future seeding significance, not team points -- was undoubtedly Ethen Lofthouse's solid 5-2 win over Lee Munster at 174. After an unimpressive first period, Lofthouse put in a brilliant ride in the second period, riding him for the entire 2:00. He tacked on a takedown and another ride in the third period to ice the match, an impressive reversal from his match with Munster at Midlands, where he was unable to do much of anything against Munster. For whatever reason, Lofthouse wrestles far better at CHA than he does anywhere else. Unfortunately for Ethen, there are three two big road duals coming up (@ OSU, @PSU, @MIN) and neither the Big Tens nor the NCAAs are being held in Iowa City this year, so he had better figure out a way to transfer his home performance to the road.

* Holes in the lineup? We haz 'em. That concludes the good news portion of this recap. The bad news is... everything else. Prior to the season, there appeared to be only one troubling hole in the line-up: 197 lbs. Well, two months later, it's still a problem... and it's been joined by several other weights. 149 was a source of considerable frustration last year and it hasn't been solved yet this year, either. Mike Kelly was solid at Midlands, but he's gone just 1-3 in dual meets since then, despite not facing a murderer's row of opponents. An opponent like jNW's Kaleb Friedley isn't a bad wrestler, but he's the sort of solid 149er that Kelly needs to be able to beat if he has ambitions of making any noise at Big Tens or NCAAs. We're not expecting great things out of Kelly this year, but some points would be nice. Kelly was close to winning here, with a wild scramble in the final thirty seconds, but his inability to escape from Friedley's ride in the second period was troubling (and ultimately decisive in losing the match). He needs to work on that -- and finishing his shots.

Meanwhile, the Nick Moore Experiment at 157 is not going well. He's been filling in for the injured Derek St. John since shortly before Midlands, but the results haven't been too great. Like Kelly, he's gone 1-3 in duals. Unlike Kelly, he can at least point to facing better competition: his last two opponents have been ranked in the top ten and Sunday's opponent (Welch) is a top-3 wrestler who simply outmatched Moore completely. While the overall match went very poorly, I was actually happy that Moore fought so hard in the third period and didn't get pinned or tech falled as seemed likely after the first two periods. The most disappointing aspect of Moore's game has been his takedown defense: he simply gets out of position far too often and gets taken down far too easily. The good news is that, unlike the other holes in Iowa's lineup, there's a clear (and good) solution to this one: put DSJ back in the lineup. The word is that he'll be ready to go for the OSU and PSU duals next weekend (he's certainly looked healthy as Iowa #1 cheerleader on the bench the past few meets), which is very welcome news. Iowa's slim title hopes are completely toast if DSJ can't wrestle (and wrestle at a very high level, too).

Bobby Telford remains in a giant funk at heavyweight: he's now lost his last four matches in a row, starting with the Midlands finals to Jarod Trice. On one hand, all four losses have come against ranked wrestlers (or would-be ranked wrestlers, in Trice's case) and aside from McMullan, they're all top-ten talents. On the other hand, Telford hasn't looked very good at all against said top-ten talent, suggesting that he's not as close to being an elite heavyweight as we thought he was a month ago. Telford was, by heavyweight standards, an offensive dynamo early in the season but it now appears that was mainly the product of facing overmatched opponents; against bigger, stronger, more experienced wrestlers his offense has dried up. He also looks tentative and uncertain and is too often unable to get out from underneath an opponent. His defense has also gotten worse. So what to do? My initial thought was that Brands would let Telford work through his issues on the mat, since that's been his typical M.O. On the other hand, it's not often that he's had a backup as experienced and able as Blake Rasing, either, so it certainly seems possible that he could turn to Rasing. I think he needs to make a decision one way or the other very soon, though: it's too late in the season to be alternating between guys.

And then there's the Grant Gambrall predicament. With every passing meet, it seems less and less likely that Gambrall will be able to do much at 197 at Big Tens or the NCAA Tournament. He seems outhorsed by guys at that weight and unable to get any of his own offense going (it also doesn't help that he seems to wait until far too late in the match to go with any effective shots). In an ideal world, he'd drop back down to 184 and regain his NCAA 3rd place finisher form there, a move which would increase both his own chances of winning a medal this year and the team's chances of winning a title. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world and I do not expect Gambrall to cut down to 184 this year. If the move was doable, I have to think that Gambrall would have already done it. I don't think he's stupid, so I think he realizes how much he's struggling at 197 and how ill-suited he is to that weight. Indications are that his problems with concussions are keeping him at 197 for now and if that's the case it sucks -- but there's nothing we can do about it.

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