A year ago, Edinboro rolled into Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes; they left Carver-Hawkeye Arena battered and beaten, on the wrong end of a 31-6 whipping. What a difference a year makes. Iowa returned the favor for Edinboro this year, taking their show on the road to McComb Fieldhouse. The Hawkeyes won again -- but it was anything but easy and that 31-6 scoreline was a distant memory by the end of this dual. Edinboro's strength was front-loaded in the lower weights, so unlike many teams that face Iowa, they were actually happy to start the dual down there in hopes of getting some positive momentum in the dual off the bat.
Things didn't start out well for Edinboro, with Thomas Gilman making his dual meet debut here and dismantling a top-20 opponent in Kory Mines. Gilman was filling in for Cory Clark here (Brands made it clear in his post-match presser, available below, that he expected Clark to start in Iowa's next two dual meets, against Buffalo and Penn State, so this seems like more of a one-off deal than a hint that the starting job at 125 is unsettled) and he filled in brilliantly. He scored a takedown early in the first and then rode Mines hard for the rest of the period; by the third period, he was working a virtual takedown clinic.
The good vibes for Iowa ended immediately after Gilman's match, though. The most anticipated match of the evening was the clash of top-10 stars at 133, with #1 Tony Ramos taking on #8 AJ Schopp. Ramos blanked Schopp a year ago, scoring an impressive 9-0 major decision in CHA. Schopp pulled off the stunning upset here, but he used a familiar gameplan: score an early takedown (which he did by using some of Ramos' own aggression against himself and turning a scramble off a Ramos shot into a takedown of his own), use length and top control to ride hard, and then tactically avoid (or "stall") the rest of the match. Outside of a takedown right at the buzzer in the second period, Ramos wasn't able to score any offense on Schopp. It was a surprising loss based on the way Ramos handled Schopp last year, but Schopp is a good wrestler and he has some physical attributes that make him a challenging matchup for Ramos as well.
Things went from bad to worse for Iowa at 141; after a scoreless first period, Josh Dziewa got out of position while riding Mitchell Port and last year's NCAA runner-up made him pay dearly for that error, scoring a reversal and putting Dziewa on his back for a pin less than a minute into the period. In less than 15 minutes, Iowa had gone from enjoying a bonus point win from their backup 125er to trailing 9-4. The pain continued at 149 where Brody Grothus got a surprise start... and promptly got worked by Edinboro's 10th-ranked Dave Habat. I really don't know what else there is to say about 149 at this point, but it is wildly depressing.
Iowa needed some good news before intermission and fortunately their other #1 wrestler, Derek St. John, was able to provide it. St. John controlled Greisheimer throughout their match (minus a sequence where Greisheimer was able to get behind him and score a takedown of his own) and he displayed unusual aggression and energy in scoring two rapid-fire takedowns at the end of the third period to earn a major decision win. After conceding bonus points in the previous two bouts, Iowa badly needed a bonus point win of their own to stop the bleeding and DSJ did just that.
Nick Moore was first up after the brief intermission and he got the job done with an 11-4 win, but it wasn't exactly what you'd call impressive. Yet again Moore struggled to be aggressive and finish shots at times and finishing just one point shy of a bonus point-providing major decision was maddening. Fortunately, Iowa's next wrestler, Mike Evans, was happy to help Iowa get back on the bonus point path. The Pennsylvania-bred Evans wrestled well back in his home state, mauling Jennings on his way to a 13-5 major decision. It was unfortunate that he wasn't able to score a pin, but his win did get Iowa back in the lead in the a dual, a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the meet.
Where Evans displayed fire and tenacity in his pursuit of a bonus point win, Ethen Lofthouse was Ethen Lofthouse in sleepwalking to a 3-2 decision win over an unranked, unheralded opponent. Lofthouse was notoriously been a slow-starter, but some of these early results are borderline ridiculous. Iowa's likely 184er-to-be, Sammy Brooks, got the nod again at 197 and he capped off Iowa's scoring for the night with a strong 11-0 major decision. Brooks wasn't able to get a takedown in the first, but he was a beast on top in the second, tilting Pickett into nearfall situations on three different occasions. He tacked on a takedown in the third period for good measure. The night ended at 285, with Iowa's Tomas Lira (who is nowhere near 285) taking on Edinboro's Ernest James (who is much nearer to 285); unsurprisingly, James' massive size (and strength) advantage proved decisive as he was able to immediately take Lira down and quickly horse him over for a pin and ending a very strange night. Just three of ten matches didn't end in bonus point for one team or the other and it's a rare night indeed where the winning team will have two wrestlers get pinned. Thank goodness for that quartet of major decision wins from Gilman, DSJ, Evans, and Brooks. Those bonus points saved Iowa's bacon tonight.
There are a lot of things to point the finger at when it comes to Iowa's failings in this dual, but let's start at the beginning -- namely, with first-period scoring... or the lack thereof. In six of ten matches tonight, Iowa failed to score a first-period takedown by my reckoning. In a few of those matches it wasn't too surprising (Habat is much better than Grothus; James is better AND bigger than Lira), but the overall trend is concerning. Look, on one level it's just math: the first period of a match is three minutes long. That's 43% of a normal-length match -- nearly half of it. If you don't score points in that period, you're making it much harder on yourself to win the match (and giving your opponent opportunities to get that one move and sneak out a narrow win over you) and you're making it incredibly hard to get bonus points in a win. Only one of Iowa's four major decision wins last night didn't feature at least one first period takedown and that was Brooks' match, which featured a nearfall clinic in the second period (while that was fun, it's also not really a sustainable tactic unless your mat skills are just unimpeachable; against stiffer competition, those back points dry up and if you can't score from neutral, you'll find yourself in trouble -- ask Mike Evans over the last few years). Iowa needs to get off to faster starts, both to ensure that they just WIN matches and also to give themselves much better opportunities to rack up bonus points (which they need to do if they want to have any prayer of contending for B1G and NCAA titles this year).
Related to that lack of first-period scoring is the lack of aggression that seems to permeate too many members of the team right now. The poster boy for that is Ethen Lofthouse, who wrestled over six minutes against an unranked and unheralded guy wrestling up a weight before getting his first (and only) takedown of the match. I don't even know what to say anymore. If you've followed Iowa wrestling at all over the last few years, this is not even remotely surprising behavior from Lofthouse. And if you've followed Iowa wrestling for longer than that, you can probably just dust off your frustrated comments about Ryan Morningstar and just replace any reference to M* with a reference to Lofthouse. Of course, if Iowa's lack of aggression was confined to one wrestler it would be more tolerable, but it's not. There are too many guys on Iowa's team right now who seem too content so it back and wait -- for the perfect angle, for the perfect moment, for the perfect shot. Being aggressive shouldn't mean being reckless (Tony was perhaps a touch reckless in his match with Schopp and it obviously cost him dearly... but even there the larger problem was his inability to score on Schopp; he conceded that takedown very early in the match and had ample opportunity to escape and and score takedowns of his own), but it does mean fighting back against being passive.
It's also worth noting that this was very much a weirdo lineup that Tom Brands fielded tonight. The biggest head-scratcher of them all (and the one I've not heard any explanation for) was Tomas Lira getting the nod at 285, but Iowa fielded backups at four different weights and had guys wrestling up a weight twice. The weirdness of the lineup certainly doesn't excuse the performance -- this oddball assortment of guys was still plenty good enough to beat Edinboro -- but it does put it in a little more context and it should make it easier to avoid extreme overreactions about this result. This is not the team that Iowa is going to be sending out there in bigger, better duals -- or in tournaments. I sure hope not, anyway. And if you're going to experiment, well, doing so in December makes a hell of a lot more sense than doing so in March.
#3 IOWA 22, #15 EDINBORO 19
125: UN Thomas Gilman MAJ DEC (12-3) #17 Kory Mines (IOWA 4-0)
133: #8 AJ Schopp DEC (3-2) #1 Tony Ramos (IOWA 4-3)
141: #2 Mitchell Port PIN (3:47) #13 Josh Dziewa (EDINBORO 9-4)
149: #10 Dave Habat MAJ DEC (13-5) UN Brody Grothus (EDINBORO 13-4)
157: #1 Derek St. John MAJ DEC (13-5) UN Johnny Greisheimer (EDINBORO 13-8)
165: #4 Nick Moore DEC (11-4) UN Zach Towers (EDINBORO 13-11)
174: #6 Mike Evans MAJ DEC (13-5) UN Patrick Jennings (IOWA 15-13)
184: #2 Ethen Lofthouse DEC (3-2) UN Nick MItchell (IOWA 18-13)
197: UN Sammy Brooks MAJ DEC (11-0) UN Vince Pickett (IOWA 22-13)
285: UN Ernest James PIN (2:10) UN Tomas Lira (IOWA 22-19)
Some quick weight-by-weight thoughts:
125: A really strong fill-in performance by Gilman here. Mines is a solid opponent -- good, but far from great -- and Gilman didn't seem to have any difficulty with him at all. That's a great sign from him and while opportunities for him this season figure to be few and far between unless Clark suffers an injury or develops an inability to cut weight to 125, he's certainly one to be excited about for next year (and beyond). Along with fellow RS frosh Sammy Brooks and Mike Evans and Derek St. John, Gilman was easily one of the few highlights of the meet for Iowa.
133: A shocker. The surprise to me wasn't that Ramos conceded an early takedown -- we've seen that before, on occasion. The surprise me to me was that he wasn't able to escape in the first period and he was barely able to mount any effective offense of his own in the second and third periods -- that's not the Ramos we've come to know and love over the last few years. Still, Ramos is one of those wrestlers who seems to function even better with a chip on his shoulder, so perhaps he can use this loss as fuel for the rest of the season. And, who knows, he might even get a chance to face Schopp in a rubber match -- Edinboro's Ed Norton lookalike is slated to be at Midlands later this month.
141: The fact that Dziewa got pinned here was obviously hugely disappointing, but my biggest frustration about this match is that we didn't really get to see what Dziewa could do in a full match against a top guy at this weight. They wrestled to a stalemate in the first period and then one miscue by Dziewa led to the swift end of the match in the second period. That mistake sucked, but it's one that I don't expect him to make again.
149: I don't know why Grothus got the start here and Brands' comments in the post-match presser (see below) are somewhat cryptic. Obviously, Kelly's performance against Iowa State on Sunday wasn't fantastic, but I'm also not sure how many more chances Grothus needs to get at this weight. I don't think a rotation here is doing either guy any favors and Iowa would be much better-served to pick one guy and ride with him for a while. I'd lean Kelly in that debate, too, since he has much better defense than Grothus and is less likely to give up bonus points to opponents. (Normally tie goes to the offensive wrestler at Iowa, but at this point 149 is all about damage limitation.)
157: Steady as she goes. DSJ did a good job of righting the ship when Iowa badly needed him to in this dual. He came out aggressive and landed a quick takedown and he ended aggressive and picked up a few more quick takedowns to lock up a major decision; we could quibble with the in-between when he gave up a takedown of his own and wasn't able to get more of his own offense going, but honestly -- Iowa had way bigger problems tonight than DSJ. He got the job done.
165: Moore is making progress and that's great to see, but he needs to turn the corner and figure out how to score more bonus points. This match was tailor-made for bonus points -- a freshman making his first appearance of the year -- and Moore instead had to settle for a 7-point win. Again, I see progress from a year ago (this might have been a 3-4 point win then), but if he wants to live up to that shiny new top-5 ranking, there's still a lot more work to do.
174: Evans was exactly what Iowa needed tonight: fiery, tenacious, and determined to score bonus points. If we could give everyone on the team an attitude injection from him, Iowa would be in much better shape. The lone disappointment here was that he was "only" able to get a major decision. But he was close to a pin on a few occasions and just wasn't able to finish it. That's frustrating, but it happens -- his mindset was right and if he keeps putting guys in dangerous scoring positions, it will certainly pay off for him.
184: Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. There's a time and a place for Lofthouse's uber-frustrating "get a takedown late and hang on for a tight win" strategy, but it sure as hell isn't in matches like this. In matches like this, Lofthouse needs to be pushing the pace, opening up, scoring points, and working for bonus points. Instead, we got a whole lot of nothin'. I give Lofthouse a lot of leeway because he's wrestled hard and done well in the NCAA Tournament the last few years, but it doesn't make these sleepwalking performances any easier to take.
197: Brooks got the nod again here and he did well. The inability to finish a shot in the first period was disappointing, but he made up for that with some great matwork in the second. There are certainly things that Brooks needs to work on (like his fellow Iowa wrestlers at these weights -- Evans, Lofthouse, Burak -- effective offense from neutral is all-too-often at a premium), but he's still an enormously promising talent for Iowa's future.
285: Seriously, I have no idea why Tomas Lira got the call-up here. In his presser, Brands indicated that Bobby Telford was back in Iowa City and didn't make the trip to Edinboro (so apparently the lineup released by Iowa earlier in the week is about as accurate as the depth charts Kirk Ferentz releases early in the week during football season), but I have no idea why Terrance Jean-Jacques didn't get the nod here. Yes, he suffered a disappointing loss in Ames on Sunday, but he's still, you know, an actual heavyweight -- which Tomas Lira is not. To his credit, Lira has been an absolute gamer during his stint in the Iowa program, wrestling at multiple different weights and filling in whenever and wherever Iowa needs him to do so. But asking him to wrestle 285 is a bridge too far.
Here, at last, is Brands' aforementioned post-match presser. He sounds about as happy as you'd expect from a coach whose team squeaked out a win in a dual where two of their guys got pinned.
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- IOWA VS IOWA STATE: PREVIEW + OPEN THREAD
- IOWA DOMINATES THE IOWA CITY DUALS (AGAIN)
- IOWA CITY DUALS PREVIEW AND OPEN THREAD
NEXT: Iowa heads home to take on Buffalo in Carver-Hawkeye Arena next Thursday evening before turning their full attention to the pre-Christmas dual with Penn State in just over two weeks.