The Penn State Nittany Lions ended a long streak with the Hawkeyes last year during a 22-12 dual win in Happy Valley. It was the first win over the Hawkeyes in a head-to-head dual since 2007.
Friday, Iowa hopes to keep another win streak intact as the top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Nittany Lions invade Carver-Hawkeye Arena for nationally televised dual on the Big Ten Network.
“Let’s do a good job of fighting and then we will let the results lay where they lay,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said Tuesday at a news conference in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. “But we can’t have situations where you’re not fighting. Who is going to win this weight class? We want to be the answer to that.”
Penn State (8-0, 5-0) has not won at Iowa since 2006. And Iowa leads the all-time series 25-7-2, but Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson has had the Hawkeyes’ number since leaving his alma mater Iowa State to join the Nittany Lions three seasons ago.
If third-ranked Iowa is to knock off the favored Nittany Lions, the Hawkeyes will have to win the matches it is supposed to win and come up with wins in the two swing matches.
Iowa will be favored at 141 Mark Ballweg, 133 with No. 2 and undefeated Tony Ramos and 285 with Bobby Telford.
Second-ranked Ramos enters the dual at 16-0 and will face unranked Jordan Conaway. Eighth-ranked Ballweg is 15-1 this year and 40-4 all-time at 141 and he will face unranked Bryan Pearsall (16-6). Sixth-ranked Telford, who has struggled of late, will face No. 17 Jon Gingrich at heavyweight.
Those are the matches the Hawkeyes have to win.
The good news is that two of the three swing matches are also matches Iowa is favored in. The bad news is that both wrestlers are facing top-five ranked opponents.
Top-ranked Matt McDonough has won 41 straight matches and is 13-0 this season. He will start the night with a highly-anticipated match with second-ranked Nico Megadulis, a sophomore who enters the night with a 16-1 record. McDonough beat Megadulis last year but needed overtime in the 3-1 victory.
The other swing match is at 157 where undefeated and No. 1 Derek St. John takes on No. 5 Dylan Alton, who enters the night at 17-2.
“Competing in Carver-Hawkeye Arena is that much more of a call to action to put on a show,” McDonough said. “When it comes down to it, it’s you against one other guy, mano-a-mano. It doesn’t matter where it is or what time of year it is, it’s a battle and you have to go out there with an iron will.”
McDonough also faced Megaludis for the 125-pound NCAA championship and won 4-1.
“I’m going out there and I’m trying everything I can to get that dual started off on the right note,” McDonough said. “That’s with high pace, that’s with a lot of scoring, and some stingy wrestling.”
Iowa should win those two matches. And if it does and if there are no upsets along the way by the Nittany Lions, the dual could be decided at 174 with No. 6 Mike Evans of Iowa and No. 4 Matt Brown of Penn State. Both wrestlers come into the night with two losses.
Nobody expects Iowa to win at 165, 184, 197 and 149.
Ed Ruth at 184 and Quentin Wright at 197 both come into the match with undefeated records. Ruth, the 174-pound champion in 2012, is ranked No. 1, while Wright, the 197 runner-up last year, is No. 3. Andrew Alton also is ranked in the top 10 at 149, where Iowa has unranked Michael Kelly.
The 10th and final weight is 165 where Iowa’s Nick Moore is ranked No. 13. He is 11-3 on the season and is the reigning Big Ten Wrestler of the Week after a huge win over Minnesota’s 10th ranked Cody Yohn last Saturday night.
But Moore will be facing Penn State stud David Taylor, a reigning national champion and second-ranked ranked grappler with a record of 17-1.
If all goes to form and Brown beats Evans at 165, then a 15-15 tie could occur like it did Saturday against Minnesota. Iowa won that dual by a third criteria but cannot count on that against the Nittany Lions.
Brands has been preaching bonus points all season. Ruth and Wright could get bonus points in their matches. It is crucial that Iowa gets bonus points in weights that allow for it, which could be 133, 141 and 157.
The Hawkeyes (15-1, 5-0) will need to be at their best to pull off the upset. Brands said he loves his team and loves all 10 of his guys, but it is put up or shut up times for the Hawkeyes, who are looking to regain their perch atop the wrestling world.
“It’s like building,” Brands said. “It’s easier to build and make this meaningful with a win and some success last week (at Minnesota). It’s about getting to the next step with some success. I like our guys and I like the way we are coming along. The No. 1 thing is fight. It takes a lot of work and a lot of energy to wrestle that way and to get that result.”
Penn State scored its first win over Iowa since 2007 last year when it rolled off 22 straight points and seven straight wins at home. McDonough, Ramos and Montell Marion all won to give Iowa a 12-0 lead, but it was the last time Iowa would win in the match.
The dual will start at 8:04 p.m. Fewer than 1,700 tickets remained on Tuesday. If you are unable to attend the matchup, it can be seen on the Big Ten Network.
The winner of this dual gets put into the driver’s seat for a Big Ten Conference dual championship. Iowa doesn’t wrestle again until it travels to Illinois the following Friday. The Hawkeyes also end the Big Ten season at home against Nebraska on Sunday, Feb. 10.
Matches Iowa is favored in
125 – No. 1 Matt McDonough (13-0) vs. No. 2 Nico Megaludis (16-1)
133 – No. 2 Tony Ramos (16-0) vs. unranked Jordan Conaway (10-4)
141 – No. 8 Mark Ballweg (15-1) vs. unranked Bryan Pearsall (16-6)
157 – No. 1 Derek St. John (16-0) vs. No. 5 Dylan Alton (17-2)
285 – No. 6 Bobby Telford (11-3) vs. No. 17 Jon Gingrich (14-5)
Matches Penn State is favored in
149 – No. 8 Andrew Alton (17-1) vs. unranked Michael Kelly (10-6)
165 – No. 2 David Taylor (17-1) vs. No. 13 Nick Moore (11-3)
184 — No. 1 Ed Ruth (19-0) vs. No. 14 Ethen Lofthouse (12-4)
194 – No. 3 Quentin Wright (18-0) vs. No. 19 Nathan Burak (12-8)
174 – (Iowa) No. 6 Mike Evans (11-2) vs. (PSU) No. 4 Matt Brown (17-2)