So... that sucked. Iowa's historic unbeaten streak in dual meets -- 84 in a row -- is over. At the completion of all ten matches, they were tied with Oklahoma State 16-16, but after newly instituted tiebreaker rules were examined, Oklahoma State was awarded an additional (and meet-winning) point, based on having more total match points than Iowa (54-51). Losing the streak was always going to be painful; losing it on a goddamn tiebreaker is even more agonizing. Perhaps it was fitting that it came this way, though; the winning streak became an unbeaten streak a year ago thanks to a tie with Oklahoma State and now, after what was essentially yet another tie (the two teams have split the last two dual meets right down the middle, ten matches apiece), they will be tied forever in the record books with Oklahoma State.
As with any loss, particularly one as close as this one, there's a tendency to point fingers and assign blame. In this case, though, there's no easy scapegoat. Outside of Matt McDonough and (especially) Tony Ramos -- and probably Vinnie Wagner and Mike Evans, too -- every Iowa wrestler could have a little bit more in their matches to steer the meet result in a different direction.
* If Bobby Telford avoids giving up a five-point move early in the match (or if he doesn't get so skittish that he's afraid to go to any of his own offense after that), he probably doesn't give up a major decision - and Iowa wins.
* If Montell Marion doesn't wrestle such a sloppy, listless match (he was so flat-footed that he was practically handing Kindig takedowns on a silver platter), Iowa probably wins.
* If Nick Moore is able to take crisper shots and finish his takedowns, Iowa probably wins.
* If Ethen Lofthouse can get a takedown (particularly in that crazed scramble at the end of the first period), Iowa probably wins.
* If Grant Gambrall and Mike Kelly... well, honestly, I'm not sure what they could have done -- they both looked pretty overmatched in their matches.
If anything epitomizes Iowa's struggles against Oklahoma State on Saturday night, it's this: Matt McDonough had more takedowns (six) than the rest of the Iowa team did in the rest of their matches combined (five). Montell Marion had a pair of takedowns and Tony Ramos, Mike Evans, and Vinnie Wagner each had one takedown apiece in their matches. No other Hawkeye had a single takedown in their matches. That is not a winning formula, especially not for a team like Iowa that prides itself on its attacking prowess. With a few notable exceptions, this Iowa team looked painfully toothless.
#2 Oklahoma State 17, #2 Iowa 16
HWT: #2 Alan Gelogaev MAJ DEC (10-2) #7 Bobby Telford (OSU 4-0)
125: #2 Matt McDonough MAJ DEC (14-4) #9 Jon Morrison (tied, 4-4)
133: #4 Tony Ramos DEC (4-3 OT) #1 Jordan Oliver (Iowa 7-4)
141: #3 Montell Marion DEC (9-7) #9 Josh Kindig (Iowa 10-4)
149: #2 Jamal Parks DEC (8-3) #11 Mike Kelly (Iowa 10-7)
157: #15 Albert White DEC (7-4) Nick Moore (tied, 10-10)
165: #10 Mike Evans DEC (5-1) Dallas Bailey (Iowa, 13-10)
174: #3 Chris Perry DEC (3-2 OT) #9 Ethen Lofthouse (tied, 13-13)
184: Vinnie Wagner DEC (4-3) Chris McNeil (Iowa, 16-13)
197: Blake Rosholt DEC 8-4) #15 Grant Gambrall (tied, 16-16)
* Oklahoma State earns one team point on the third criteria - total match points (54-51)
* Tony Ramos is a stud. In a better world, Ramos' sensational overtime win over Jordan Oliver, the #1-ranked wrestler in the nation, the defending national champion, and a Hodge Trophy favorite, would have led off this recap. Unfortunately, when Iowa loses the way they did on Saturday night, it seems more appropriate to dwell on some of the negatives. Perhaps that's appropriate, perhaps it's not. In any event, Ramos' win remains a sensational accomplishment and a massive testament to his growth as a wrestler, as well as one of the most electric moments in recent Carver-Hawkeye Arena history. His win blew the proverbial roof off the building. Ramos' win was the product of smart wrestling, strong defense, and controlled aggression.
While Ramos technically won on a penalty point, that shouldn't diminish his win at all -- he was a very deserving victor. He was able to stuff Oliver's attacks (including on one particularly deep takedown attempt early on), he was the more consistent aggressor, he came closer to scoring more takedowns (he came absurdly close to getting the match-winner in the sudden victory period), he scored the decisive takedown late in the third period, and he was able to ride Oliver when it mattered in overtime. It was a truly remarkable performance. There are several wrestlers on this Iowa team who have been wrestling tentatively and cautiously of late, which is hugely frustrating. Ramos is decidedly not one of them. He's aggressive, he's confident, and he seems to be constantly getting better. This may or may not end up being a year to remember for Iowa as a whole, but Ramos' performance throughout the remainder of the season should be a lot of fun to behold.
* McLeadership. It seems almost unnecessary to praise McDonough when he simply goes out and does what he's done for the better part of three years, but still: let's take a moment to acknowledge just how good McDonough is and how clutch he can be. After the meet opened with Bobby Telford's deflating 10-2 major decision loss, it was imperative that McD respond -- and respond in a big way. Which is precisely what he did, fighting through a frustrating 0-0 first period to erupt in the second and third periods and turn the match into a takedown clinic which he won 14-4. The action and dominance of the win got the crowd back into the meet and the four points he earned evened up the dual meet score. In hindsight, of course, a tech fall or pin would have been better, but those were going to be difficult to obtain when Morrison was so determined to spend the second and third periods turtling up and not giving up his back to McD. In all likelihood, it would have been a waste of time for McD to spend too much time trying to stick Morrison after one of his many takedowns; he was better off simply pouring on the takedowns and guaranteeing the major decision.
* Experience is a bitch. There were three Oklahoma State senior vs. Iowa redshirt freshman matchups last night -- and OSU won all three of them. In fact, only twice last night did a younger wrestler beat an older wrestler -- Ramos at 133 and Rosholt at 197. Experience does matter and, unfortunately, this is still an Iowa team that's learning and growing. Nick Moore, Mike Kelly, and Bobby Telford had never wrestled in an atmosphere like this, or in a meet with stakes as high as this one... and, unfortunately, it showed in their performances. Oklahoma State is a team clearly built to compete right now, moreso than Iowa, sadly. They have five seniors in their starting lineup (six if Byers ever regains his spot at 197); Iowa has... two (Montell Marion and Vinnie Wagner). Iowa started four redshirt freshmen and two sophomores. For every Matt McDonough that explodes onto the scene as a sensation as a freshman, there are several more guys who take longer to develop. This is a long-winded way of saying: there are better times ahead for Iowa.
* When will Montell Marion show up this year? I feel like I've bagged on Marion in almost every recap I've done this year, which seems odd for a guy who's now 16-1 on the season. But Marion has so consistently underwhelmed this year that it seems warranted. Where is the Marion who claimed he wanted to "dominate" the competition this year? Kindig is a decent wrestler, but not the sort of challenger who should be pushing Marion into the final seconds of the match. Why did Marion appear to be utterly spent by half-way through the second period in that match? Why was he wrestling so flat-footed and making it easy for Kindig to take him down? Why did he seemingly wait until the third period to again "flip the switch" and start wrestling fairly hard? He's just a maddening wrestler to watch.
* Fatigue? Before the meet, there was plenty of grumbling from Iowa fans about the the schedule -- Iowa had a dual meet in Bloomington, IN Friday night and had to bus back to Iowa City late Friday night -- but I don't think that gripe holds much water when it comes to explaining Iowa's performance in this meet. Five guys wrestled both Friday night and Saturday night; they went 3-2 on Saturday, with McDonough, Ramos, and Evans picking up wins and Kelly and Moore coming up short. Frankly, the guys who looked the most gassed on Saturday were Marion and Gambrall -- two guys who didn't make the trip to Indiana.
* Vinnie and the last seconds. Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the gutty efforts of Vinnie Wagner to pull out his match with a reversal in the frenetic final minutes of his match with OSU's McNeil. That was a toss-up match that Iowa needed to have to have a shot at winning the dual and Wagner came through for Iowa. It wasn't pretty, but we'll still happily doff our caps to Wagner in recognition for his ability to pull out that win.
* Progress needed. Based on current form, there are exactly two Iowa wrestlers I would feel comfortable winning All-America honors at the NCAA Tournament in March: McDonough and Ramos. Depending on St. John's health and how good he looks against legit competition this year, I would consider adding him. If you want to argue that Marion should on that list too because his only loss is to the current top-ranked wrestler, I would understand... but the way he's been wrestling makes it impossible to have confidence in him. The way he's wrestling now makes it possible for virtually anyone he wrestles to upset him. Still, at best that's four guys, which almost certainly won't be enough to win a title.
Guys like Evans, Lofthouse, and Telford have the potential to be All-Americans, but the last ten days (Midlands plus this dual) have showed us just how far they have to go in their development. The biggest problem with all three guys appears to be their ability to attack on their feet. Evans is a terror on the ground, but he struggles to get guys down on the mat a little too often because his attacks just aren't that strong yet. Lofthouse's offense at times looks good, but at other times looks too direct and is too easily defended. Telford was hailed as that rarest of things, an attack-happy heavyweight, but so far that's only been evident against lower echelon heavyweights. Against top heavyweights he's not only struggled to get takedowns, he's struggled to even take shots.
It's unclear what -- if anything -- can be expected from Kelly at 149, Wagner/Fahler at 184, or Gambrall at 197 -- which makes it essential for Iowa's title hopes that Evans, Lofthouse, and Telford develop into more consistent threats. The good news is that it's just January and titles aren't decided in January - they're decided in March. A year ago, Iowa looked shaky early on, too, but improved enough to put serious scares into Penn State at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Maybe lightning can strike twice.
NEXT: Iowa travels to Lincoln, NE to face #12 Nebraska on Friday (7pm CT) and returns home to take on #16 Northwestern on Sunday (1pm CT).