It’s tough to say Iowa did itself any favors in the momentum department ahead of Friday’s dual with No. 2 Penn State. Top-ranked Oklahoma State smoked the now-fourth ranked Hawkeyes (Ohio State jumped them in Flo’s latest rankings) Sunday afternoon in Stillwater. It was ugly, it was disappointing, and there weren’t a ton of positives to take away.
Silver linings are hard to come by when you lose 7 of 10 matches to the nation’s top-ranked team, but there’s no time to dwell on it when rival Penn State’s scheduled to roll into Carver in a few days. Cari Greene of Black Shoe Diaries was kind enough to tell us about the Nittany Lions in this season’s first grapplin’ version of Behind Enemy Lines.
Danny Payne: Per usual, Penn State is having an annoyingly good season. How good has this one been compared to the Nittany Lion squads of recent history?
Cari Greene: I would say it's not as great as Ed Ruth and David Taylor's last year (though not much would be because they're phenomenal) — that season (2013-2014) saw our fourth National Title in a row, and it saw a then-unknown Zain Retherford ride out freaking Logan Steiber in front of a home sellout crowd. That was a moment that we'll never forget — introducing the world to the Z Train.
DP: Among others, Retherford and Jason Nolf are names seemingly everyone knows, will they, along with the other top-tier wrestlers in Cael Sanderson's lineup, be enough to beat Iowa? If not, where are the points going to come from to make or break the dual?
CG: Yes, they'll score bonus against ranked competition. And if that's not enough, Penn State now actually has a decent heavyweight (I KNOW, I'M SHOCKED TOO!) in Nick Nevills, and seemingly the only person who may have a shot at taking down Gabe Dean in now-184er Bo Nickal — who looks to be suuuuper pissed that the lost last year's final against Myles Martin. The only match in which Nickal hasn't pinned or tech falled his opponent was against last year's runner up TJ Dudley, and that decision was nowhere near as close as the final score would indicate. This past week, Nickal pinned a ranked guy in Rutgers' Gravina — when he was on bottom. That's just nasty. Sammy Brooks's mullet better watch out.
DP: Where are the chinks in the armor, if any, of Penn State?
CG: Right now, it's gotta be 133 — where Jered Cortez is talented but has been battling a shoulder injury for over a month, and 141, where Jimmy Gulibon can beat anyone on an on night but lose to anyone and badly on an off night.
DP: From what you saw in of Oklahoma State's beat down of Iowa and the way the Hawkeyes have looked this year, what impresses you most and what underwhelms you most?
CG: I honestly expected this one to be closer. The match between Sorensen and Collica was surprisingly boring — and I'm shocked that the Hawkeye didn't get that one, TBH. I also was really surprised that Clark lost — those were two I had chalked up as wins for Brands' squad headed into the dual, and Clark is legit—if only there was one more second on that RT clock. I was unsurprised at how Gilman dominated (125 is his to lose) and I love, love, love seeing JoJo Smith lose. So kudos to Kemerer for that one.
DP: Michael Kemerer is arguably the second-brightest beacon of hope on a Hawkeye squad with its fair share of issues. How do you expect the Pennsylvania product to fare against Nolf?
CG: Not well. Jason Nolf is in another league this season, with no one around to touch him. Kemerer might notch the first takedown — but that will just make Jason mad. He should bonus him.
DP: I'm debating even asking this, but there have been angry comments/tweets here and there so what the hell — from one college wrestling fan to another, has the classic "Iowa style" of competing left the product the Hawkeyes put on the mat?
CG: Yes. And Brands' seeming inability to admit that Iowa hasn't been wrestling very offensively in a few years is just baffling — I'd like to see him, just once, not say how shocked he was that Iowa won (or lost) low-scoring, close bouts, with no takedowns, in an un-Iowa-style. After how many years, is it that much of a surprise, Tom?
DP: Prediction time: Who wins this dual and by how many points?
CG: Penn State takes this one. I'm going to wait to predict my point totals — I'll be publishing my full breakdown on Friday morning with scoring predictions — but I think the Lions will take somewhere around 7 of the bouts (8 if I'm speaking with my heart instead of my head).