Hawkeyes know why, how they need to score more points

Chad Leistikow

Iowa assistant Ryan Morningstar, left, and head coach Tom Brands encourage Alex Meyer during the Dec. 6 dual against Michigan State. Brands wants to see more action overall from his Hawkeyes.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – This shouldn't come as a surprise if you follow Iowa wrestling: But there's no satisfaction in the wrestling room for being undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country

At Iowa, there's always room to get better.

The Hawkeyes went on the road and scrapped out wins in the final four bouts Sunday to overcome No. 7 Ohio State, 18-14. The finals in those four bouts: 5-2, 3-2, 2-1, 4-0.

The message in the Iowa wrestling room Monday was the same as coach Tom Brands delivered post-match Sunday: score more points.

"Let's score points in the first period. Let's score points at the end of the first period," Brands said Monday as his Hawkeyes powered through a weight-lifting and training regimen following a seven-day stretch in which they set a record point total at the Midlands Championships and won two Big Ten Conference road duals.

"Let's score points in the second period. Let's score points in the end of the second period. Let's score points the whole match."

Sounds simple enough. And makes timely sense, considering Iowa recorded a very un-Iowa-like one first-period takedown in the 10 bouts in Columbus, Ohio.

But how do you put words into action against opponents who strategize to slow it down against Hawkeye-brand aggression?

"It's definitely not a physical thing," 125-pounder Thomas Gilman (16-1) said. "Guys are holding points from us. It's mental more than anything."

The mental aspect of scoring is reflected in both first-period urgency and conditioning.

Hawkeye 184-pounder Sammy Brooks is one of the most aggressive wrestlers in what Gilman referred to as Iowa's "murderer's row" lineup, a term that's been used to describe four-time defennding national champion Penn State.

Even Brooks realizes he has let off the gas pedal more times than the allowable zero.

"In a tight match, you want to hold on. It's hard to let it go and let loose," Brooks said. "But we have to know that our conditioning is top-tier. There's nobody that can match our conditioning.

"If I walk off the mat and I'm damn near collapsing from being tired, I know that guy's almost having a heart attack. If I'm this tired, he's twice as tired. It's hard to think about that when you're in your match, but you have to think big-picture like that."

That's the point Brands wants to get across, pointing to Gilman's 2-1 overtime win against Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello.

"Conditioning was a factor in that 2-1 win," the coach said. "But make it a factor where you're winning 8-2 in the third period. Not 2-1 all the way to the ride-out."

Up next for Iowa is another road dual, Sunday at eighth-ranked Oklahoma State.

For the Hawkeyes to back up their No. 1 ranking when it really counts, at the NCAA Championships March 19-21 in St. Louis, Mo., the work has to get done now — and this weekend in Stillwater, Okla.

"We better open it up," Brands said. "Tough teams win close matches. But they don't have to be that close.

"Consequently, the team race takes care of itself maybe a little bit more how you want it to."

TELFORD HONORED: Iowa heavyweight Bobby Telford was named USA Wrestling's national wrestler of the week. The Hawkeye senior defeated top-ranked Mike McMullan of Northwestern to win the Midlands Championships on Dec. 30, then beat top-10 wrestlers Friday and Sunday in dual wins at Rutgers and Ohio State. Telford has a 16-0 record this season.