Penn State wrestling doesn’t have much time to celebrate its commanding win over No. 4 Michigan last Friday, with what will likely be its toughest test of the season lurking around the corner in Columbus on Friday.
Even though, yes, Michigan did beat Ohio State, the Buckeyes present a much tougher matchup for the Nittany Lions than the Wolverines. It’s very possible that Friday night could come down to bonus points — just like last year.
The recent absences in both starting lineups also add a whole other layer of intrigue. Just one starter out of either lineup could drastically swing this dual.
With that said, it’s no wonder most of the questions in this week’s mailbag are about the Ohio State dual and the starting lineup. Let’s see what we’ve got:
What will have to happen for Penn State’s streak of 55 straight dual wins to end this Friday?
With each lineup at its full strength, the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes are split down the middle, with each team favored in five bouts. With this close of a matchup, every single point is going to matter. To win, Ohio State will first have to field a healthier lineup than Penn State, win the matches it is supposed to, then steal one from Penn State or win the bonus-point battle.
Injuries are going to be key in this dual. The Roman Bravo-Young injury really hurts Penn State here, as 133 pounds is the match Penn State probably had the best shot at stealing. Although the true freshman hasn’t been ruled out, he may not be at full strength after missing the past two duals. But Ohio State has also not been without injuries of its own. Senior Joey McKenna, ranked No. 2 at 141 pounds, sat out during both of Ohio State’s duals last weekend with a reported “undisclosed injury.”
If McKenna is out of the lineup, the dual tilts back in Penn State’s favor. However, Ohio State blog Eleven Warriors said McKenna is “hopeful” for Friday. As long as McKenna is healthy enough to wrestle safely, it seems unlikely he’ll sit — not with a chance to upset the No. 1 Nittany Lions.
With a healthy lineup, Ohio State will then have to win all the matches it’s supposed to — 125, 133, 141, 149 and 184 pounds. Especially with Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed not looking entirely healthy in his return to the mat last Friday, and if Baravo-Young doesn’t wrestle, 141 seems like the biggest upset opportunity for Penn State. If you’re an Ohio State fan, that is good news. McKenna has been wrestling like a national champ lately and will likely be up for the battle in the biggest home dual of his Buckeye career.
If all goes according to plan for the Buckeyes, they can essentially seal the deal with one more win. That takes us to the marquee bout of the night — No. 1 Bo Nickal vs. No. 2 Kollin Moore at 197 pounds. There’s not a lot of data on how these two wrestlers match up, as they have never met collegiately, and they’ve both beaten all their common opponents. Nickal will be favored, but Moore will have the home-mat advantage and be hungry for an upset of his own after a surprise loss to Anthony Cassar last season.
Having recently added freshman Ethan Smith to the lineup, the Buckeyes have more of an upset chance at 174 pounds, but ultimately, 197 will be their best shot.
If Moore is unable to pull off the upset, the dual will come down to bonus points. Bonus points are looking good for Penn State at 157, 165, and maybe even heavyweight. But Penn State will also have to limit the number of bonus points it gives up. That’s where injuries come back into play. For the Nittany Lions’ best shot to keep their 55-straight dual streak alive, they’ll want to have Bravo-Young, even at less than full capacity, Brady Berge, and a healthier Rasheed.
If things are as close as they are expected to be on Friday night. It could be injuries — either way — that decide the dual.
Where has 149-pounder Brady Berge been?
As previously mentioned, Berge’s presence in the lineup could be key to Penn State winning that contest against the Buckeyes. So it makes sense that fans are wondering where he’s been for the past three duals.
Last Tuesday, Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson assured reporters that there was “nothing wrong at all” with Berge, and that the coaches had just wanted to give the redshirt freshman the weekend off.
Berge was supposed to wrestle against Michigan last Friday, but Sanderson said “it just didn’t work out that way.” After the match, Sanderson explained that it was a last-minute decision to wrestle alternate Jarod Verkleeren. Verkleeren had gotten the call earlier that day and had to quickly cut weight in order to wrestle.
Sanderson did not say why Berge was unable to wrestle, or whether the rest week was give him some relief from weight-cutting, but it is well-known that Berge, a more natural 157, has been on a weight-decent program this season.
Whatever the issue is, it appears to be more health, and less injury-related.
Who’s the most improved wrestler from last season?
This is an easy answer: Cassar. Now up at heavyweight, the senior is able to eat and lift — two of his favorite things — as much as he wants. With no restrictions, and the ability to eat unlimited macaroons over Christmas break, Cassar is fully enjoying life, and it shows on the wrestling mat.
Since Cassar started wrestling heavyweight, nobody leaves their seats early — even if that means having to sit longer in traffic. The show is worth it.
Cassar went from not being able to hold on to his starting spot last year at 197 pounds, to being a legitimate finals contender. Even though most of his opponents have been weighing in at 30, 40, even 50 pounds heavier, Cassar still seems to out-muscle them, lifting an approximately 285-pound Conan Jennings off the mat and slamming him back down with a blast double — twice.
The strength and speed Cassar shows at heavyweight is reminiscent of former Buckeye great Kyle Snyder. And if he is able to get another year of eligibility from the NCAA, it will be scary to see how much better he can get.