As redshirt-sophomore Cole Mattin walked onto the mat, it still seemed like the No. 3 Michigan wrestling team had a chance to keep its dual meet against No.1 Penn State within striking distance.
After three bouts, the Nittany Lions were leading by five, and Mattin was preparing to wrestle a winnable match — certainly one that he needed to win.
Instead, he wrestled for just 15 seconds.
As Mattin collapsed, clutching his ankle, everyone wearing maize and blue at Crisler Center let out a sigh of despair. Not just because Penn State was now ahead by eleven points, but because everything that possibly could go wrong for Michigan was going wrong. After six matches, just one of which the Wolverines won, the fans’ worries were confirmed, and Michigan (5-1 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) left the Crisler Center dominated by the Nittany Lions (13-0, 5-0), 29-6, in their biggest dual meet of the season.
Throughout the entire night, Michigan looked overwhelmed as inability to score takedowns, injuries and crushingly tight loss after loss doomed the Wolverines.
The night started with No. 1 graduate student Nick Suriano winning his toughest match of the season over Penn State’s No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt. But present even in Suriano’s victory was a tendency that would plague the team for the rest of the night, as Suriano won the match, 2-1, without scoring a takedown.
“The area that was real glaring tonight was just basic handfighting,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “We didn’t fight hard enough to get to the ties we needed to be in and we weren’t constantly clearing their ties. It’s an area we got exposed tonight and it slowed down our offense.”
After Suriano, the wheels began to come off.
Redshirt freshman Dylan Ragusin was the first to fall, 8-1, narrowly avoiding surrendering a major-decision victory to Penn State’s No. 1 ranked Roman Bravo-Young as the clock ran out. Following Ragusin at 141 lbs, graduate student Drew Mattin filled in for recently-scratched graduate student Stevan Micic to face the Nittany Lions’ No. 1 ranked Nick Lee. Mattin was outpaced and surrendered a technical fall late in the third period, losing 21-6.
As Cole Mattin hobbled off of the mat 15 seconds into his match, the Wolverines were behind, 14-3, and had yet to score a takedown.
Redshirt junior Will Lewan changed that at 157 lbs in a victory over Penn State’s Terrell Barraclough in which he was able to outmuscle his opponent to score two single leg takedowns and win the bout 5-2, making the match 14-6.
Up until that matchup, even though the Wolverines suffered tough losses, it felt as if each match had a clear aggressor. Each result could have been expected coming into the night.
But at 165 lbs, the tide turned.
From 165 all the way to heavyweight, each match was nearly identical. The wrestlers took the mat, wrestled three periods of incredibly tight, mostly scoreless action, surrendered a late takedown, and lost by one or two points. In every match, it felt like the Wolverines were just about to break through, but never did.
At 174 lbs, graduate student Logan Massa had the Nittany Lions’ Brady Berge lifted in the air but couldn’t finish. At 184 lbs graduate student Myles Amine lost a scramble in overtime. And at heavyweight Mason Parris led into the third period, but gave up a late takedown and got ridden out.
But the match most indicative of the team’s woes was at 197 lbs, where Pat Brucki lost to Penn State’s No. 2 ranked Max Dean in overtime. Brucki scored two takedowns and surrendered none in regulation, but still couldn’t close out the match. He entered the third period ahead, and only had to escape to earn a victory, but instead got ridden out.
“We gotta clean up the bottom wrestling,” Bormet said. “Especially when we’re getting to our feet and are in position to hit cut-outs, we discussed and worked that area several times, but it has gotta work here.”
Each bout filled the arena with hope — even after the team result was decided — that the individual wrestlers could earn themselves a major victory over top ranked opponents. But Penn State never faltered.
Overall the Nittany Lions outwrestled Michigan. Their hand fighting was stronger, their shot defense was better and their finishes were cleaner. Their wrestlers consistently found ways to get their hands raised in matches that felt like fifty-fifty tossups. Of the five matches the Wolverines lost to end the night, none was decided by more than three points.
“There’s just some basic basic skill level, fundamental wrestling, that we’ve got to clean up,” Bormet said. “I think tonight put the magnifying glass on a few of those areas, the handfights, cleaning up the bottom, and hand control.