Well that was certainly ugly. For the second time in two weeks, Iowa lost to an OSU team (note: we'd better be on high alert if we draw Oregon State at National Duals/Mat Mayhem next month). The last time Iowa lost a dual meet to Ohio State LBJ was president, England could still win World Cups, and Star Trek was just debuting on television. That was 1966. 45 years later, they've done it again. It was inevitable, of course: no streak lasts forever and Ohio State has been a program on the rise for some time (let's not forget they finished as runners-up in two of Iowa's recent national championship hopes). They have a very good coach in former Hawkeye Tom Ryan (the Gable coaching tree may be a point of pride, but it also won't make life easy for us in the years to come) and a stable of gifted young wrestlers. The only real surprise was that they were able to win so convincingly now rather than in a few years after experience had honed them into even better wrestlers.
How did they do it? In many ways, last night felt like a perfect storm of events. Ohio State was well-prepared and had a strong gameplan (attack early, get a lead, then slow things down and either weather the late storm or capitalize on Iowa's mistakes) that they were able to execute well. Yet Iowa also aided their own demise by putting forth one of the most listless and uninspired performances I've seen from them in years. Throw in a dash of miserable, inconsistent officiating and you have a recipe for a beatdown like we saw last night. But again, take nothing away from Ohio State: they wrestled harder, smarter, and quicker than Iowa pretty much all night and were absolutely deserved winners.
#10 Ohio State (9-2, 3-2) 21, #3 Iowa (9-2, 4-1) 9
125: #2 Matt McDonough DEC (5-2) #15 Johnni Dijulius (Iowa 3-0)
133: #4 Logan Stieber DEC (7-0) #2 Tony Ramos (tied, 3-3)
141: #7 Hunter Stieber DEC (4-2) #3 Montell Marion (OSU, 6-3)
149: #16 Cam Tessari DEC (9-4) Mike Kelly (OSU 9-3)
157: Josh Demas DEC (7-3) #2 Derek St. John (OSU 12-3)
165: Derek Garcia DEC (6-5) #6 Mike Evans (OSU 15-3)
174: #9 Ethen Lofthouse DEC (7-1) Joe Grandominico (OSU 15-6)
184: #8 Nick Heflin DEC (7-4) Vinnie Wagner (OSU 18-6)
197: Andrew Campolattano DEC (8-6) Grant Gambrall (OSU 21-6)
HWT: Blake Rasing DEC (6-2) #15 Peter Capone (OSU 21-9)
So what happened? Why was Iowa's performance so terrible last night? In the wake of this defeat, there are several popular theories:
* They were looking ahead to Penn State on Sunday. It's possible. Penn State has moved into serious rival territory over the past few seasons and that's certainly a massive dual meet that's been circled on the calendar for a while. Ohio State was a team that had already suffered a pair of losses in B1G dual meet competition (including one to Nebraska, who Iowa beat last week) and who Iowa had dismantled, 33-3, a year ago in Iowa City. On the other hand, Ohio State is a good team with several very good wrestlers; if any wrestlers or coaches thought this meet would be a walkover like the Indiana dual a few weeks ago, they were delusional.
As I said yesterday:
This meet could swing OSU's way, though: just flip the results at two of these four weights -- 133, 141, 157, and HWT -- and Iowa picks up a second loss to an OSU team this year. On the other hand, it wouldn't take much to see Iowa wins at 149 or 197, either, which could pave the way for a comfortable Iowa win. This one is hard to call.
Based on the matchups, this was a very difficult meet to predict. I said flip the results at 2/4 of 133, 141, 157, and HWT and Ohio State could win. Well, they were able to do just that (they won at 3/4 of those weights, actually) and win they did.
* They overtrained. This is one of the most popular theories among Iowa fans, for a few reasons. One, it makes sense based on Brands' comments last weekend (he was notably displeased with the performance of several wrestlers in the dual meet win over jNW) and his past practices (just a year ago, he had Iowa practice at a very high level after Midlands to erase the sting of that defeat and rebuild them into a team capable of pressuring Penn State for the Big Ten and NCAA titles). Two, it suggests that last night was an aberration and Iowa, when in peak condition, will still be a force to be reckoned with come March. I find myself somewhat divided on this notion; on one hand, several wrestlers looked noticeably tired and flat-footed, which is fairly uncharacteristic for them. On the other hand, it also seems a little convenient and self-serving -- and it ignores some things that have been lingering problems all season. Speaking of...
* They just aren't that good. This is a delicate point, but one worth fleshing out. Are they better than they showed against Ohio State? Yes, absolutely. McDonough's track record speaks for itself, Tony Ramos just beat the defending NCAA champion two weeks ago, Montell Marion is a two-time All-American, Derek St. John is a far different (and far better) wrestler when healthy, and Mike Evans just beat a very good wrestler in Robert Kokesh a week ago. Off nights happen; Iowa just had the misfortune of several wrestlers all having truly bad performances at the same time. And in the case of Ramos and Marion, they were also wrestling very difficult opponents; the Stiebers are highly ranked for a reason and they've knocked off some big names already this season. Wrestling them for the next four years is not going to be fun.
At the same time, though, there were several problems last night that were nothing new for Iowa -- and that will spell trouble going forward. McD might have won, but he looked unimpressive in doing so, largely because Dijulius followed the established blueprint for slowing down McD: tie him up early, block off, and stall as much as possible. If the official isn't aggressive in punishing that stalling, it's imperative on McD to find new ways of scoring. Good riders remain Tony Ramos' kryptonite and while he's made strides at escaping guys, it's clearly still an area he needs to work at. Marion remains flat-footed and too easy to take down, as well as too un-aggressive in going to his own offense. Mike Kelly still gives up too many easy takedowns and struggles to finish his own shots too often. Mike Evans seems to lack confidence in his offense on his feet at times and Vinnie Wagner has the heart but not the skills to grind out wins against more talented opponents. Grant Gambrall was markedly more aggressive in this match than in prior matches (he probably took as many shots here as he had in the previous 3-4 matches combined), but he still struggled to finish too many of those shots and had weak defense at times.
An inability to take (and finish) shots has been a recurring problem for several Iowa wrestlers this year, as has their tendency to start matches slow and give up early shots (and takedowns)... which is certainly concerning. Can that improve? Certainly. Will it? Hopefully. There are several new starters in this year's lineup as well as wrestlers dealing with significant health issues; that makes performing at a high level consistently a challenge. But we'll have to wait and see how they progress. I'm not optimistic about the dual with Penn State tomorrow, but this season won't be defined by dual meets in January, it will be defined by performances at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament in March. Based on current results, it's hard to have much optimism that those performances will be worth a damn, but... time will tell.