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Iowa Wrestling Slips By Illinois And Dominates Iowa State

The quick takeaway is this: #1 Iowa beat #7 Illinois 20-13 on Friday and #23 Iowa State 26-9 on Sunday, extending their school-record unbeaten streak to 82 in a row. They also extended several other streaks, including Big Ten duals (36), home duals (37), away duals (48), and dual meet wins over Iowa State (8). But what else is there to take away from these performances? Read on.

In case you ever wondered why it's a good thing that the NCAA Wrestling Tournament is held in March and not December, Friday night's dual between Iowa and Illinois provided an excellent explanation: you want to have your guys peaking in March, not December, an approach that Iowa attempts to utilize each year. In past years, Iowa hasn't been punished for slightly sluggish starts due to the level of the competition; they've been so much better than the likes of Coe or Cornell or UNI that raw talent could easily carry the day. That wasn't true with the Illinois squad that came to Iowa City on Friday night; they're ranked 7th in the nation for a reason: they have a strong team with a handful of elite wrestlers. They have five wrestlers ranked in the top twenty of their respective weight class, including three within the top eight (and Jesse Delgado may be joining that group after his shocking upset of Matt McDonough; more on that in a bit). Iowa hasn't faced a team this strong this early in the season in quite a while.

They also have an assistant coach, former Iowa national champion Mark Perry, who is ideally suited to devise gameplans to stifle Iowa's strengths and frustrate Iowa's wrestlers (see: lots of shooting and clinging to one leg, or near-constant blocking off and avoiding a takedown). It's a defensive approach that flummoxed several Iowa wrestlers on the night (including St. John, Evans, Telford, and McDonough, to an extent), but one that they'll need to devise counter-attacks for in the weeks and months ahead, because future Iowa opponents will no doubt be studying these matches to find chinks in their armor. So, no, Iowa didn't look great by any means on Friday (with a few notable exceptions), but I think a meet like that is far more useful than watching Iowa dismember some hapless sacrificial lamb like Iowa Central.

The dual on Sunday against Iowa State was a less interesting and less revealing affair; while Illinois is a high-quality opponent with a quintet of wrestlers who could challenge for All-America honors (though they probably don't have the team-wide depth to mount a serious Big Ten or NCAA title push), Iowa State is a team still attempting to rebuild in the wake of Cael Sanderson's abrupt departure a few years ago. There's a vast gulf in quality between the two programs right now, as evidenced by the fact that Iowa started six wrestlers ranked within the top seven nationally, while Iowa State started six freshmen. (Iowa State's problem was only exacerbated by the fact that those freshmen started at the lower weights, where Iowa is strongest.) As fulfilling as it is to beat Iowa State (and, trust me, it never gets old), this win doesn't tell us a great deal about this Iowa team.

#1 IOWA (4-0) VS. #7 ILLINOIS (6-1)
149: #8
Terrazas DEC (8-4) M Ballweg (ILL 3-0)
157: #2
St. John DEC (10-5) Morse (TIE 3-3)
165: #15
Evans DEC (5-0) Stelter (Iowa 6-3)
174: #6 Lofthouse DEC (6-1) #3 Blanton (Iowa 9-3)
Dallago MAJ DEC (17-8) Fahler (Iowa 9-7)
197: #15 Gonzalez DEC (11-9) Lira (ILL 10-9)
HWT: #7 Telford DEC (2-0) Walker (Iowa 12-10)
125: #15 Delgado DEC (11-7 OT) #1 McDonough (ILL 13-12)
133: #2 Ramos MAJ DEC (13-5) #3 Futrell (Iowa 16-13)
141: #3
Marion MAJ DEC (11-2) Thomas (Iowa 20-13)

#1 IOWA (5-0) VS. #23 IOWA STATE (0-6)
125: #1
McDonough DEC (6-0) #10 Finch (Iowa 3-0)
133: #2
Ramos FALL (4:32) Terukina (Iowa 9-0)
141: #3
Marion MAJ DEC (17-5) Toettl (Iowa 13-0)
M Ballweg DEC (3-1 OT) Cozert (Iowa 16-0)
157: #2
St. John FALL (4:38) Moreno (Iowa 22-0)
165: #5
Sorenson DEC (4-3) #15 Evans (Iowa 22-3)
174: #10
Spangler DEC (8-5) #6 Lofthouse (Iowa 22-6)
184: #15 Beard DEC (10-9) Wagner (Iowa 22-9)
Lira DEC (10-6) Shafer (Iowa 23-9)
HWT: #7
Telford DEC (9-3) #19 Gibson (Iowa 26-9)

A few more thoughts on each weight this weekend.

125: #1 Matt McDonough 1-1; L to #15 Jesse Delgado (ILL), W to #10 Ryak Finch (ISU)
Oh my. McD's loss on Friday cast a pall over the dual meet win and raised a few concerns about him going forward. Overall, it was a solid win over a quality opponent, but McD's loss (as well as some slightly sluggish performance by a few other Iowa wrestlers) gave it a bittersweet taste (it reminded me, on a much lesser scale, of Iowa's Big Ten Tournament win in 2010, when Metcalf lost a shocker to Lance Palmer in the finals while Iowa won a Big Ten title). So how concerned should we be about McDonough? He definitely didn't look like the irrepressible ball of energy and action that we've been accustomed to seeing against Delgado on Friday; he looked slow and sloppy and after giving up a slick reversal to Delgado in the second period, he almost looked spent -- it was only by virtue of a slightly fortuitous stalling call that he was even able to take that match into overtime. It sounds like he also struggled to dominate Finch on Sunday.

On the other hand, outside of Lofthouse, no other Iowa wrestler fought a pair of opponents this weekend as strong as McDonough -- Delgado and Finch were both ranked wrestlers (with Delgado likely to jump into the top ten this week) who could contend for All-America honors in March. And slow starts aren't uncommon for McDonough: he had some struggles early on last season, before turning things on and turning into the dominant force we know and love. It may just be that he was ill or that this early in the season he's still trying to get comfortable with the weight cut. It may also be that wrestlers have scouted McDonough well and have devised strategies to slow him down. If his struggles persist, I'll be concerned, but for now I'm just going to chalk it up to an early season blip and trust that he'll be much better by Midlands -- and certainly by February and March, when things get cranked up.

133: #2 Tony Ramos 2-0; W to #3 B.J. Futrell (ILL), W to Shayden Terukina (ISU)
While McDonough raised a few worries with his performance this weekend, Ramos emphatically snuffed out concerns with two dominant performances, including a head-turning major decision win over longtime nemesis Futrell on Friday. That match was a significant win for Ramos on several levels: not only was it beating an elite guy at the weight, as well as a guy who had stymied in the past, but it was a big win at the precise moment when Iowa needed a big win. After McDonough's loss, the CHA crowd was stunned and the dual (and Iowa's 80-meet unbeaten streak) was in jeopardy: if Ramos lost to Futrell, Iowa would need at least a major decision from Marion to even salvage a draw in the daul. But Ramos rose to the challenge impressively, scoring an early takedown to get the crowd going and then refusing to let up for the ensuing seven minutes. He absolutely dominated Futrell, both on his feet (where he was able to score multiple takedowns) and on the mat (where he rode him well, which was not one of Tony's strengths a year ago). His match with Terukina contained the sole blemish on Ramos' weekend -- he gave up an early takedown and was nearly stuck for a pin -- but he rebounded from that near-miss to dominate Terukina with multiple takedowns and, eventually, a pin in the second period (something else that wasn't one of Ramos' strengths a year ago). We obviously hope that Tony isn't peaking too soon, but he looks outstanding so far, which is very exciting to see.

141: #3 Montell Marion 2-0; W to Daryl Thomas (ILL), W to Luke Goettl (ISU)
As expected, Marion wasn't seriously threatened in either match this weekend; he's simply much, much better than either Thomas or Goettl. Perhaps the only disappointment is that he was "only" able to secure major decisions in each win and that he couldn't get a technical fall or a pin in either one. For all his pre-season talk about "dominating" in his senior year, he's not quite there yet -- but "very good" is an okay place to be at, too.

149: Mark Ballweg 1-1; L to #8 Eric Terrazas (ILL), W to Joey Cozart (ISU)
So it's (again) come to this: Iowa sending a 141 lber out to wrestle up a weight at 149. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the host of guys already at 149 (most notably, Dylan Carew and Jake Ballweg). There's some talk that Michael Kelly is very close to getting down to 149 and that we might see him here before long, but this appears to be Mark Ballweg's weight for the time being. He had a frustrating performance against Terrazas (rarely shooting and looking tentative), but was able to bounce back and get an OT win over Cozart. This weight still looks like a pretty big hole in the lineup, unfortunately.

157: #2 Derek St. John 2-0; W to Jackson Morse (ILL), W to Michael Moreno (ISU)
St. John was one of the wrestlers most stymied by Illinois' defense-heavy approach in several matches on Friday, as Morse continually shot forward and grabbed one leg, only to hang on and do nothing else (which finally earned him a much-deserved stalling call in the third period; it's not often that you deserve a stalling call for shooting, but he absolutely did here). By the end of the third period, DSJ seemed to have it figured out and was able to score a few takedowns, but he should have been cutting him and going for more takedowns earlier in the match, as well as working on his footwork to avoid falling prey to those cheap half-shots that lead to time-consumign stalemates. Fortunately, it sounds like he was much better against Moreno.

165: #15 Mike Evans 1-1; W to Dan Stelter (ILL), L to #5 Andrew Sorenson (ISU)
Evans is what we thought he was: a very gifted wrestler on the mat (he was utterly abusing Stelter down there), but a somewhat shaky wrestler on his feet. His takedown attempts are a bit too blunt and straightforward; they're good enough against lesser competition, but he'll need to work on some sharper, less predictable moves if he wants to take down the guys at the top of this division (and Sorenson is among them). But overall, he's off to a pretty solid start as a redshirt freshman -- we just might need to temper some of the out-of-sight expectations for him for the time being. He's also got the unruliest mop of hair on an Iowa wrestler since Jay Borschel roamed the mat; we can only hope he grows a mustache was marvelous as JayBo's at some point.

174: #6 Ethen Lofthouse 1-1; W to #3 Jordan Blanton (ILL), L to #10 Chris Spangler (ISU)
An up and down weekend for Lofthouse: he scored a very impressive win over Blanton, but dropped a match to Spangler. There's no great shame in splitting with two quality wrestlers (both Blanton and Spangler will likely be contending for All-America honors come March), but it appears that consistency remains a bugaboo for Lofthouse. He looked very sharp against Blanton, scoring a few very solid takedowns and defending well against Blanton, but didn't seem as sharp against Spangler. Again, it's better to be inconsistent in December than March, so hopefully this is just part of the learning curve for Lofthouse. There's a decent chance that he'll get another crack at Spangler at Midlands at the end of the month.

184: Jeremy Fahler 0-1; L to Tony Dallago (ILL)
184: Vinnie Wagner 0-1; L to #15 Boaz Beard (ISU)
Split duty this weekend as we got to see both potential back-ups to Grant Gambrall while Gambrall eases his way back into competition (in the post-ISU presser, Brands indicated that everything was proceeding well on that front). Neither Fahler nor Wagner won, but both had performances with things to admire. Fahler displayed a nice sense of aggression in his match on Friday and picked up a few nice takedowns. On the downside, some sloppy defense and slow feet led to conceding a few way-too-easy takedowns and his ground game needs serious work: Dallago was able to turn him for back points on multiple occasions. He's raw, but promising; given a few more years of practice and experience, he should be squarely in the mix to replace Gambrall come 2013. I wasn't able to see Wagner's match, but it sounds like he acquitted himself very well against a top-15 guy and, frankly, should have had a chance to win the match in OT if not for some dodgy work from the timekeeper (who managed to bungle the riding time count). With Gambrall on the way back, neither Fahler nor Wagner figures to be a fixture in the line-up this year, but it's good to know that Iowa has pretty solid back-up options available.

197: Tomas Lira 1-1; L to #15 Mario Gonzalez (ILL), W to Cole Shafer (ISU)
We got precisely what we expected out of Lira at this weight: a slightly undersized wrestler who isn't among the most skilled guys at his weight, but who never quits and never wrestles with anything less than 100% effort. We can scarcely ask for much more, given the options here. He came very close to knocking off a top-15 wrestler (Gonzalez) on Friday and settled down to pick up a solid win over Shafer on Sunday after a wild, back-and-forth first period. With his tenacity, Lira will probably win a few matches this year that he "shouldn't" win on paper.

HWT: #7 Bobby Telford 2-0; W to Pat Walker (ILL), W to #19 Matt Gibson (ISU)
Okay, so the once-prophesied return of exciting heavyweight wrestling to Iowa may have been slightly premature; against bigger, more skilled (or at least more defensively sound) competition, Telford's matches resembled those of any number of other heavyweights that we've seen in recent years: slow and methodical. He controlled both matches, was never seriously in danger, and was the aggressor, but fast-paced, takedown-heavy wrestling this was not. So it goes. Like Evans, Telford is uncommonly good for a freshman on the mat, but a little patchy on his feet right now. Better shots will come with more experience and more practice, though. For now, he's off to a perfectly solid start.