IOWA CITY --- When two-time defending NCAA champion Penn State rides into Carver-Hawkeye Arena tonight, Tom Brands is looking for a different type of rodeo.
The top-ranked Nittany Lions handled the third-ranked Hawkeyes a year ago, winning 22-12 at home and the Iowa wrestling coach expects an improved approach from his team in today’s 8 p.m. clash between the only remaining unbeaten teams in Big Ten action.
“The number one thing we need to do is fight,” Brands said.
As an example, Brands points to a 174-pound match in last year’s dual, a weight where current top-rated 184-pounder Ed Ruth rolled to a 10-1 major decision against Iowa’s Ethen Lofthouse.
“Ed Ruth threw a saddle on Ethen Lofthouse and rode him like a horse,” Brands said. “We cannot do that. There cannot be one period like that in this meet. There’s a lot of metaphors I could use to describe it, but we cannot have situations where we lay on the bottom and just don’t fight.”
Brands views Penn State’s first appearance in Iowa City since the 2009-10 season as an opportunity for Iowa (15-1, 5-0 Big Ten) to take another step forward.
“This is the big one,” Brands said. “We always talk about the next event on the calendar. This is the one you probably have highlighted and you point toward.”
Brands sees it as a chance to build on last weekend’s 16-15 win at then third-ranked Minnesota.
“It’s easier to make this meet meaningful because of the win last week. It’s about reaching the next step with some success,” Brands said. “I like our guys and I like the way we are coming along.”
Penn State (8-0, 5-0) will send eight rated wrestlers to the mat tonight, while Iowa will send nine. Combined, six wrestlers who competed in national championship matches last March and nine who are currently ranked in the top five in the country will compete.
That group includes three wrestlers currently rated as the best in the nation at their weight class, the Hawkeyes’ Matt McDonough at 125 pounds and Derek St. John at 157 and the Nittany Lions’ Ruth at 184.
McDonough, a winner in his last 41 matches, faces a rematch of the 2012 NCAA finals when he meets second-rated Nico Megaludis, a 16-1 sophomore who dropped a 4-1 decision to the Hawkeye senior in last year’s national championship.
“I’m going out there and I’m going to try 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.”
McDonough wants to provide a foundation for his teammates to build on, something that starts with individual success against an opponent who McDonough expects to be on the attack.
“I’ve had two matches against him and both of them were a battle. I’ve got to go out there and wrestle my match. When it comes down to it, it’s you against the other guy. You have to go out there with an iron will,” McDonough said.
“It’s a chance to wrestle to wrestle the best team in the country and in my specific case, the number one competitor in my weight next to me. It’s a chance to show everyone what you’re made of."