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The Grinch who Stole Wrestlemas.

Tony Hager

Cael Sanderson is running out of monkeys to get off his back.  First it was the "can't win a team national championship -- as a wrestler or a coach," but the arrival of David Taylor and Ed Ruth four years helped him take care of that one.  Then it was the "can't beat Iowa in a dual meet" monkey, but he finished off that one two years ago.  All that was left was the "can't beat Iowa in a dual meet in Carver-Hawkeye Arena" monkey and, well, RIP monkey.  Penn State used a dominating performance from their middle and upper weight wrestlers to cruise to an easy 24-12 dual meet win over Iowa.

The result wasn't wholly surprising (I picked Iowa to win, but I admittedly took a bit of homer sauce in making those picks and they were contingent on Iowa springing a few upsets), but the manner of defeat was still pretty dispiriting.  To win this dual, Iowa needed upsets.  And there were lots of opportunities for upsets -- realistic upsets, not "Nick Moore pulls a rabbit out of his hat and beats David Taylor (because David Taylor suffers from leporiphobia, of course)" -- they just didn't materialize... for either team.  This was a dual meet that went exactly according to chalk; every higher-ranked wrestler won his match.  149 featured no ranked wrestlers, but if you extended the rankings beyond a top 20, it's a safe bet that Beitz would crack the list before Kelly.  Without any upsets to fall back on, Iowa's goose was cooked.

Neither team was at full-strength in this dual -- Iowa was without the services of Cory Clark at 125 and Nathan Burak at 197, while Penn State was minus the Alton brothers at 149 and 157 -- although I don't think that really changed the outcome all that much.  Maybe Clark beats Megaludis (although at this point that's grounded more in the hopeful thoughts of Iowa fans than any tangible reality), but that decision alone doesn't make up a 12-point defeat.  Burak is a more natural 197er at this point than Brooks, but as good as McIntosh wrestled last night, it's hard to say that Burak would have done much better -- let alone that he would have turned a loss into a win. On the Penn State side, Dylan Alton likely keeps the match at 157 much closer, while Andrew Alton would have had a much better chance to get bonus points at 149 than Beitz.  In all, the absences just meant that we didn't get to see either team at peak form; it didn't mean that the result would have been much different than it was.

The meet began at 125, one of several potential swing weights for Iowa.  As noted, none of those matches swung Iowa's way.  Thomas Gilman surprisingly got the nod for Iowa in this match, with #4-ranked Cory Clark sitting on the bench instead.  When pressed, Brands suggested that Clark was dealing with a difficult cut down to 125 and that the one-hour recovery period between weigh-ins and the start of the match wasn't sufficient to get him enough energy to be able to wrestle well in this match.  Brands didn't seem to think it was much of an issue, but Clark's weight cut will be something to pay attention to as we the season progresses.  Gilman put forth a pretty game effort and came close to a nice takedown on Nico in the second period; unfortunately, Nico countered brilliantly and got the takedown (the only takedown of the match, as it turned out) himself.  From there, he managed to put on a riding clinic (which, unfortunately, would not be the only time we'd see a Penn State wrestler do that to his Iowa counterpart).

Business picked up at 133

The true dagger for Iowa's hopes of winning this dual meet may have come at 174, but Iowa's back-to-back losses at 141 and 149 likely sealed their fate.  Given Penn State's enormous advantage in the upper weights and their potential for bonus points in those matches, it was imperative that Iowa do some damage in the lower weights.  Unfortunately, Iowa went just 2-3 from 125-157 and they lost both matches at 141 and 149.  Annoyingly, both matches appeared winnable, too; Dziewa scored the first takedown of the match against Retherford and looked strong in the early going (while Retherford looked like a guy slightly intimidated by the moment), but as the match progressed, Retherford took control.  Dziewa's scoring dried up and Retherford seemed to gain confidence throughout the match, exploding for the decisive takedown in the third period.  From there he put on a vicious ride and that was that.  (That riding ability, incidentally, is what keyed his upset of Logan Stieber a week ago and what prompted Dziewa to take neutral to begin the third period of this match.)

Having failed to pull off upsets at 125 and 141, Iowa's last chance to get a much-needed upset in the lower weights was a t 149.  The good news was that Iowa was up against Penn State's worst wrestler of the night (which is not to suggest that Beitz is a bad wrestler -- he's not -- just that he isn't on the same level as his more accomplished teammates).  The bad news was that it was Iowa at 149.  I probably don't even need to say more than that.  Neither man got terribly close to scoring any points in the first period and the match continued to shamble along until an ill-advised offensive move from Kelly was countered into an attack from Beitz that put Kelly on his back and nearly resulted in a pin.  Sigh.  So it goes at 149.

Things rebounded slightly for Iowa at 157, where Derek St. John displayed admirable aggression in generating an early stalling warning on Vollrath and then converting a series of takedowns.  Unfortunately, he never came close to picking up back points or securing a pin and he wasn't able to secure enough takedowns to get Iowa a major decision and some bonus points here.  (In part, though, that was due to his corner, who gave him bad advice about how many takedowns he needed to get in the third period in order to secure a major decision.)  The lack of bonus point is disappointing, but the attitude displayed by DSJ in this match was encouraging.

Alas, from that point on the dual took a sour turn.  I'm not sure there's a point in recapping 165-197 individually because they were (more or less) the exact same match: Penn State wrestler gets a quick early takedown and controls the match, while the Iowa wrestler does nothing.  174 offered a slight wrinkle in that Mike Evans' scrambling skill and takedown defense kept Brown from scoring more points after that lightning-fast takedown off the opening whistle; unfortunately, Evans wasn't able to score any points of his own and he looked gassed when trying (and failing) to escape Brown's ride in the third period.

How bad was it for Iowa in those matches?  Well, this stat sums up their futility pretty nicely: Iowa didn't record a single takedown in the last five matches of the dual meet (which includes Telford's 3-2 at 285; his points came via escape and reversal).  You can't win if you don't score points, you can't score points (for the most part) if you don't get takedowns, and you can't get takedowns if you don't shoot.  Iowa wrestlers did an impressive amount of nothing in the back half of the dual meet.  Unfortunately, this hasn't been the first time we've seen performances like this out of Iowa in recent years.  It's maddening and not very fun at all to watch, but it's not new.

The performances of Nick Moore and Ethen Lofthouse on Saturday night were a double-edged sword.  On one hand, their opponents (David Taylor and Ed Ruth) are so spectacular and so prone to amassing destroying opponents and racking up pins or tech falls that the fact that Moore and Lofthouse were able to hold them to simple major decisions was a victory of sorts.  On the other hand, as good as Taylor and Ruth are, it's still embarrassing that guys ranked #2 and #4 in the nation applauded for merely limiting the damage.  Lofthouse at least made a game effort to get a takedown on Ruth in a scramble during the first period, but he did very left after the extended video replay that awarded Ruth a takedown.  Moore did even less than that, although it is hard to do much of anything when Taylor has his hand around your ankle the second the action resumes.

Still, Taylor and Ruth are generational talents for a reason so as frustrating as it is to watch Iowa wrestlers look like practice room dummies, it's not hugely surprising.  Among the upper weights, Mike Evans, Sammy Brooks, and Bobby Telford were better-equipped to score points for Iowa and they (mostly) failed to do so.  Brooks's second encounter with a highly-ranked 197er was uglier than his first encounter (a 3-2 loss to Iowa State's Kyven Gadson), but he was giving up an awful lot of size and strength to McIntosh, which seemed evident in the way the PSU wrestler horsed him around on the mat.  Brooks got the nod at 197 because Brands indicated that Burak has been dealing with some "nasty" issues (likely a skin infection of some sort), but the more interesting news was Brands' suggestion that Burak might take a redshirt this season, although he is expected to compete at Midlands next week (presumably unattached, in order to maintain that redshirt option).

Evans and Telford scored four match points between them: two escapes and a reversal from Telford that provided the winning points in his match.  Neither man scored a takedown; neither looked all that close, frankly.  Brown's freaky strength (I'm not sure where he went on his Mormon mission or what he did, but Iowa should have their Mormon wrestlers do whatever he did when they go on their missions) wore down Evans, most noticeably in the third period, when Evans looked spent and was unable to get an escape from Brown's punishing ride.  Evans has settled into second-tier status at 174: he's good enough to beat the guys ranked below him (good enough to dominate most of them, frankly) but he's struggled mightily against the guys above him (Brown, Logan Storley, Chris Perry, presumably Andrew Howe).  The 'Stache needs to start winning some of those matches if he's ever going to make the leap we'd like to see him make.

As for Telford, I don't know if it was a fitness issue or just dismay from the dual meet being decided by the time his match arrived, but he looked to be running at half-speed in his match with Lawson.  Lawson is much-improved from last year, but Telford still didn't work his own offense enough in that match and performances like that are unlikely to see him placing too high on the podium come March (if at all).  But the same could be said of the performances of several Iowa wrestlers last night.

How far away is Iowa from Penn State?  There were several close matches (four decided by three points or less, plus the 149 match which was just as close bar one big move from Beitz) and all but one (the Telford match) went Penn State's way.  That resulted in a fairly lopsided final scoreline for the dual meet itself.  In combat sports, there's a common misconception that a unanimous decision or a 30-27 score (in MMA) means that it was one side completely demolished the other.  The truth is, not every unanimous decision or 30-27 score is created the same way; sometimes they are the result of a one-sided hammering and sometimes they're the result of one side being just a little bit better in every round than the other.  Such is the 10-point must system in scoring.

Was Iowa closer than that 24-12 scoreline suggests?  Yes and no.  Yes, because there were a handful of close matches and with results that went just a bit different -- if Gilman, not Megaludis scores that opening takedown, or if Dziewa scores a takedown in the third period instead of Retherford -- things might have been a bit different.  But also no, because in most of those matches Iowa just wasn't close enough to scoring points of their own; if you can't put yourself in position to score points, you can't score points.  Penn State wrestled well last night (although still not as good as they're truly capable of, which is a sobering thought).  Iowa wrestled pretty badly last night -- the question is how much better they can get by March.

The good news is that Penn State can't win a Big Ten title or a NCAA title by beating Iowa in a dual meet, just as Iowa's dual meet victory over Penn State last season didn't assure Iowa of anything in last year's tournaments.  Iowa will get a chance to rebound at the Midlands tounament in a week (next Sunday and Monday).  Penn State won't be there (nor will Minnesota, Oklahoma State, OKlahoam, or Cornell),, but there will be a lot of good wrestlers there (especially at weights like 133, 184, and 285).  To date, Iowa's only faced notable competition in two dual meets -- against Edinboro and against Penn State (plus a few wrestlers from Iowa State).  It's not much of a stretch to say that Iowa didn't look very good in either dual meet; hopefully Midlands gives them an opportunity to finally put together some strong performances.

#1 PENN STATE 24, #3 IOWA 12
125: #3
Nico Megaludis DEC (4-1) UN Thomas Gilman (PENN ST 3-0)
133: #3
Tony Ramos PIN (5:22) #15 Jimmy Gulibon (IOWA 6-3)
141: #2
Zain Retherford DEC (4-2) #9 Josh Dziewa (TIE 6-6)
149: UN
Zack Beitz DEC (6-1) UN Mike Kelly (PENN ST 9-6)
157: #1
Derek St. John DEC (10-4) UN James Vollrath (TIE 9-9)
165 #1
David Taylor MAJ DEC (12-3) #4 Nick Moore (PENN ST 13-9)
174: #3
Matt Brown DEC (4-1) #6 Mike Evans (PENN ST 16-9)
184: #1
Ed Ruth MAJ DEC (12-4) #2 Ethen Lofthouse (PENN ST 20-9)
197: #3
Morgan McIntosh MAJ DEC (16-4) UN Sammy Brooks (PENN ST 24-9)
285: #3
Bobby Telford DEC (3-2) #12 Jimmy Lawson (PENN ST 24-12)