Tom Brands hears the frustration of Iowa’s demanding wrestling fans, and he gets it.
He likes it, too.
The Hawkeyes are 7-0 and ranked second in the country, but a 28-15 home victory last Friday against South Dakota State left Iowa’s critical followers with an unsettling feeling.
“South Dakota State comes in here and wins three matches, and we’re frustrated,” Brands said. “That’s a good thing. That means the expectations are high.”
But it doesn’t mean results are automatic, Brands said. The Jackrabbits stymied the Hawkeyes in several bouts by slowing the pace and keeping scores close.
"I understand the fans’ concern, and I’ve heard it all week,” Brands said. “We did not get a good grade on how we handled that style, so we do need to be better. (Thomas) Gilman is the example. (Sam) Brooks is the example. Sam Stoll stalled his guy out. That’s the example. There’s three examples and there were other things that were positive as well.
“So what do we have to do? We’ve got to keep working and our guys have to focus on the fact that they’re not always going to get guys to wrestle them how they want to wrestle them. There’s going to be guys who hold points and do things that frustrate you. You cannot let that frustration get the best of your emotions. That’s where the battle is. We have good guys that we believe in.”
The Hawkeyes face their final first-semester dual exam Thursday night when the tangle with No. 11 Rutgers inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Gilman said Iowa needs to pick up the pace in the first period to utilize its conditioning advantage over opponents.
“There’s got to be scores in that first period,” he said. “If you’re not scoring points in that first period, you’re attacking and putting that guy under pressure — psychological pressure along with physical pressure.”
Iowa’s three defeats against South Dakota State came by a combined four points. The Hawkeyes also forfeited at 197, resting two-time All-American Nathan Burak for precautionary reasons. Brands said the senior will be back in the lineup Thursday against the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers is 9-1 and coming off a 21-13 victory against then-No. 7 Cornell on Nov. 29 in the Grapple at the Garden. Depending on which member of the Iowa program you ask, the Scarlet Knights are either underrated or overinflated.
“They’re a team that likes to run their mouth a little bit and they like what they have, and they’re going to come out and try to make a statement here,” Brooks said. “It’s our job to shut that down.”
Rutgers is strongest at the weights where Iowa is still trying to break into the national rankings: 141, 157, 165 and heavyweight.
Sophomore Anthony Ashnault is undefeated and ranked third at 141. Senior 165-pounder Anthony Perrottti was an All-American two years ago at 165.
Junior Richie Lewis is undefeated and ranked 17th at 157. He could face Edwin Cooper in a clash of Iowa Central transfers.
Stoll, in search of his first win this season against a ranked opponent, takes on No. 6 heavyweight Billy Smith, a three-time NCAA qualifier.
“Make no mistake, this Rutgers team is under-ranked and they’re off the radar a little bit,” Brands said. “That’s the message. We’ve got to be ready to go — or there will be frustration like there was a week ago.”