If you had told me before the dual that Iowa would record wins at 174 and 285, where Iowa's wrestlers, Mike Evans and Bobby Telford, were facing opponents (Logan Storley and Tony Nelson, respectively) that they had gone a collective 0-8 against in their Hawkeye careers, I would have asked you how lopsided the margin of victory was for Iowa. If you would have told me that Josh Dziewa would upset #5 Chris Dardanes at 141, I would have been even more sure of a dominant Iowa victory.
And yet that's obviously not what happened. Iowa lost and in fact the dual was decided before Telford even took the mat for the final match of the day. (Unless Telford had managed to pin Nelson and J Robinson had responded by punching Tom Brands in the face, that is. Which would have been pretty exciting, you have to admit.) How'd Iowa lose a dual meet in which they won five matches and recorded three solid upset victories? Simple: they lost the bonus points battle (Minnesota's margin of victory came from a pin and a major decision they notched, while Iowa had to settle for five regular decisions) and they suffered the more egregious upsets (hello there, Gilman and St. John) in the dual.
Iowa also lost because they lost the offensive battle. Minnesota had 14 takedowns in the dual, while Iowa had five. To be sure, neither team was exactly showing off their offensive firepower yesterday -- 14 takedowns isn't a great total, either -- but Minnesota certainly had a much better showing than Iowa did. Five takedowns (Gilman, Ramos x2, Brooks, Telford) just isn't cutting it. Dziewa and Evans won matches without scoring takedowns, which... huzzah for grit/moxie/finding-a-way-to-win/whatever you want to call it, but it's not exactly a dependable formula for winning matches. Iowa wrestlers need to stop being so passive
Of course, maybe we shouldn't be that surprised by upsets at this point; we dubbed this season "Year of the Upset" a few weeks ago and things are certainly not slowing down on that front. This meet featured four upsets, two of them pretty sizable (Brancale over Gilman and Ness over St. John), and that's on top of Michigan super-frosh Adam Coon losing to Michigan State's Mike McClure earlier in the weekend. The upset train isn't slowing down as we get closer to March; that could be good or bad for Iowa (depending on which end of the upset you're on), but it should also make for some wildly entertaining and unpredictable Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
#4 MINNESOTA 19, #2 IOWA 15
125: UN Sam Brancale FALL (2:03) #3 Thomas Gilman (MINN 6-0)
133: #3 Tony Ramos DEC (6-2) #9 David Thorn (MINN 6-3)
141: #11 Josh Dziewa DEC (1-0) #5 Chris Dardanes (TIE 6-6)
149: #3 Nick Dardanes DEC (5-3) #13 Brody Grothus (MINN 9-6)
157: #14 Dylan Ness DEC (7-4) #2 Derek St. John (MINN 12-6)
165: #4 Nick Moore DEC (3-2) UN Danny Zilverberg (MINN 12-9)
174: #6 Mike Evans DEC (2-1 TB1) #5 Logan Storley (TIE 12-12)
184: #9 Kevin Steinhaus DEC (8-6) UN Sammy Brooks (MINN 15-12)
197: #1 Scott Schiller MAJ DEC (16-5) #16 Nathan Burak (MINN 19-12)
285: #3 Bobby Telford DEC (3-1 SV) #2 Tony Nelson (MINN 19-15)
125: Well, that was unexpected. Gilman's calling card since taking over the starting spot at 125 has been his defense; his offense has been fairly lacking at times since Midlands, but he's made up for it by being DSJ-esque in terms of being tough to score on. (Er, about that comparison...) In this match, Gilman found himself horsed down to the mat not once but twice in the first period. He was lucky to avoid getting pinned the first time (but did give up three nearfall points), but not so lucky the second time. That was obviously very bad, but it also seemed out-of-character for Gilman; the flaws that Brancale exploited Saturday (and kudos to him for exploiting those flaws -- he deserves credit for attacking ruthlessly at the holes Gilman gave him) aren't the sort of thing we've seen before with Gilman. And I was encouraged by his aggressiveness; it paid off with a quick takedown after his initial catastrophe (takedown+3 NF points), although it also backfired when his over-aggressiveness allowed Brancale to catch him again and put him on his back on the mat.
Ideally, a match like this would light a fire under Gilman's ass and lead to improved performances the rest of the way; we'll have to wait and see if that's the case here. This result is also likely to up the calls for more appearances by Cory Clark, still technically undefeated at 125 this year, although I think it's silly that his defeat to Jarrod Garnett at Midlands doesn't officially count. The story since Midlands has been that Clark can no longer handle the weight cut to 125 (especially in a tournament setting), but it will be interesting to see if he gets another opportunity before the end of the season.
133: A solid decision win for Tony over an old (and tough) foe, but it would have been nice to see more of a push for bonus points out of Ramos here, especially given how close the dual figured to be. Remember when Tony was pinning everything that moved last year at this time? I miss those days.
141: Scraping out ugly, close wins is definitely preferable to enduring ugly, close losses, so by that token Dziewa's performance here is laudable. And if he can do it again in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals or the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, huzzah, we'll take the team points for sure. But performances like this aren't exactly the sort of thing you write songs about or remember fondly for years to come. Dziewa basically Tony Nelson'd his way to a victory today (which is more than the real Tony Nelson could do, HEY-O) and that's not a style that we really want to encourage. It's OK to take a few shots, Josh.
149: Brands has said recently that Iowa will likely go as 141 and 149 go at Big Tens and NCAAs and there's something to be said for that notion. They're two of Iowa's biggest wildcard weights and assuming other weights perform up to expectations, good performances there could push Iowa into the realm of genuine title contenders. But if you're using the results at 141 and 149 in this dual to forecast Iowa's performance down the road, the magic 8-ball is likely going to say "Reply hazy, try again later." The good news is that Grothus is looking far more competitive in these matches than he (or fellow 149er Mike Kelly) was a year or two ago. The bad news is that he's not winning all of them, but then again if he was winning all of them he'd be ranked among the top 2-3 at 149 and I don't think anyone thinks he's at that level right now. Over the last month or so, Grothus has essentially split a handful of matches against top-10 opponents, beating Jason Tsirtsis and Josh Kindig and losing to Jake Sueflohn and Nick Dardanes; that's not the end of the world. Right now, Grothus looks like the kind of guy who could get to the R12 or maybe even push for the bottom ranks of the All-America podium. That would be a quantum leap forward for Iowa at this weight compared to years past.
157: As much as Gilman's loss hurt (and make no mistake that was a damaging loss and effectively at least a 9-point swing), there's an argument to be made that St. John's loss was worse -- and more costly. After all, if St. John was winning with under a minute to go; if he just holds on for an unremarkable 4-2 decision win, that's a six-point swing in the team score and Iowa wins the dual 18-16. It's also one thing for a redshirt freshman to get caught in a bad position a few times; it's another thing for a 3-time NCAA All-American and defending national champion to get caught napping on a funky reversal, even by someone as well-versed in funk as Ness. (Side note: can the fucking Ness family just graduate and go away already? I'm so tired of them pulling stuff out of their butt to beat Iowa wrestlers in the final minute of matches.) I don't expect St. John to get caught by Ness' funky junk (um) in a rematch, but that obviously doesn't erase his loss here. Let's just hope it doesn't hurt him too badly in the seeding come Big Ten Tournament time. Of course, the other thing St. John could to make life easier on himself? Trust his freaking offense a little more. Don't let matches stay so close and make it possible for Ness to win with a freak move. Go to your shots, trust your ability to get takedowns, and don't let first periods end with a 0-0 scoreline.
165: Nick Moore has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season so far, but that progress was hardly in evidence Saturday. This was Bad Old Nick Moore, getting caught flat-footed and giving up a takedown, lacking aggression on offense, and failing to push the tempo and get takedowns. He still managed to win the match thanks to a pair of escapes and a riding time point, but this was his worst performance in weeks. Let's hope it was a one week aberration and that he's back to looking the confident, aggressive, point-scoring wrestler we've seen more often over the last month.
174: Finally. The 'Stache had lost seven straight matches to wrestlers ranked in the current top-5 at 174, a ranking that hasn't really changed much since the beginning of the season. (Based off last year's NCAA Tournament, we entered the year thinking that Perry > Brown > Kokesh > Storley > Evans, with Howe taking top honors ahead of everyone in most rankings because of his accomplishments before his redshirt year, and the results so far this year and borne that logic out. Until now!) Now, for the first time since a 9-6 decision win over Robert Kokesh last year, Evans has another win of his own over those top-5 guys and a better case to make for his own ability to finish high on the podium at this weight. It was especially nice to get a win here after Evans' disappointing (and ugly) 7-3 loss to Kokesh last week. He was able to get a win here in large part by eliminating the mistakes he made in that match: he didn't get out of position or put in a bad spot and he was able to ride Storley pretty effectively. It would have been sweeter still if he could have beaten Storley while fixing his other recurrent problem -- an inability to finish takedowns from neutral against the top guys at 174 -- but that will have to wait for another day. This is still a very solid win from Evans and one that hopefully gives him a confidence boost for future top-5 battles. The offense from neutral still needs to improve, but a win like this is still great progress for Evans.
It also gave the crowd something to celebrate on Saturday (via Tony):
184: Lofthouse remains MIA, which meant another showing for Sammy Brooks -- and almost another win over a ranked wrestler for Slammin' Sammy. Brooks did a nice job of weathering Steinhaus' early storm, responded wit ha nice takedown of his own in the second period, and looked to have Steinhaus on the ropes early in the third period with his tempo and aggression giving Steinhaus fits, but he wasn't able to get another takedown, while Steinhaus was able to get one and give himself much-needed breathing room. Still, this match was valuable experience for Brooks and it's impossible not to like his terrier-like attitude and his offensive tempo. He doesn't give up and he keeps moving forward and looking for takedowns; if only we could bottle that and give it to the rest of the team.
197: In some ways, Burak looked pretty good on Saturday -- he had some nice set-ups and good-looking attacks on Schiller. The only problem was that Schiller looked even better on Saturday. If Burak has taken a step forward since last year (and I think he has), then Schiller has taken a leap forward. He looks like the class of this weight right now. The most impressive thing about him was that he wasn't just able to stop all of Burak's offense -- he was able to counter it and immediately transition into his own offense and finish shots. This was the best offensive performance of the day by any wrestler on either team. Burak seems a pretty far distance from Schiller right now... but that might be true of Schiller and almost all 197ers right now.
285: The dual was effectively decided after Schiller's major decision win put the Gophers up 19-12, but it was still very gratifying for Telford to give Iowa fans a happy ending to a dual that was all-around puzzling and discouraging in several ways. Most importantly, it was great to see Telford finally get the Nelson spiral-riding monkey off his back. Bobby entered the match 0-5 lifetime against Nelson and for one primary reason: he couldn't score on him. He couldn't escape Nelson's spiral ride of doom when he was underneath and he couldn't finish a takedown on Nelson from neutral. Well, he did both in Saturday's match; the times, they are a-changin'. The most encouraging thing was seeing Telford finally finish a takedown on Nelson -- that had been a long time coming and it was fantastic to see him finally seal the deal there. Hopefully this gives Telford more confidence in his offense and more trust in the fact that if he just takes a few freaking shots, good things will happen. Dare to dream.
NEXT: Iowa heads to Evanston to take on #16 Northwestern.