The Huskers are nearing the end of arguably the toughest slate of duals any team in the country has to face, as they are gearing up to face their fourth top-10 team in that span. After losing to No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 1 Iowa and No. 2 Penn State, Nebraska will host No. 3 Ohio State Sunday afternoon.
Despite the losses, which were all pretty good showings for the Big Red, Nebraska (6-3, 1-3 Big Ten) is currently ranked No. 6 in the NWCA Coaches Poll. Nebraska was the first team to seriously push the top-ranked Hawkeyes and took Penn State to the very end, eventually falling 20-18. Nebraska did grab its first conference win of the year with a 25-12 win over Michigan State last weekend, but this is its last shot at a high-caliber upset win.
Nebraska hosts the Buckeyes (9-2, 5-1) Sunday at noon at the Devaney Sports Center. The dual is set to stream on BTN+ (subscription required).
*Rankings according to InterMat
It seems as if redshirt freshman Alex Thomsen (8-9) has finally hit his stride after facing a tough conference stretch to start Big Ten play. With back-to-back wins against Penn State and Michigan State, Thomsen looks to make it three in a row against Ohio State’s Malik Heinselman (10-12). Both wrestlers sport similar records and haven’t been competitive against the upper echelon of wrestlers this year, but both are young wrestlers still trying to right the ship. Heinselman just snapped a seven-match losing streak on Friday with a win against Big Ten cellar dweller Maryland. With this match at home and Thomsen seemingly turning a corner, I see the young Husker grabbing an important decision to start off the dual. Nebraska’s chances: 65%
Nebraska true freshman Ridge Lovett (9-6) is another Husker who grabbed his first conference win last week, as he beat Michigan State’s Garrett Pepple 5-0. The young Husker, ranked no. 13 in the country, has caught the attention of his peers as well as at least one wrestling great with his ability to wrestle from top position. As is normal, each wrestler is allowed to choose top, bottom or neutral to start either the second or the third period. Most wrestlers choose bottom as a way to grab an escape point, but no wrestlers in Big Ten play have chosen down against Lovett. Much of this is due to the fact that Lovett successfully rode out the entire third period against Iowa dynamo Austin DeSanto (ranked No. 2). This can be a major advantage in tight matchups, as deciding neutral over bottom essentially gives Lovett a one-point advantage.
Ridge Lovett, a true freshman, has now wrestled 3 top 10 guys in Gross, Desanto, and RBY all in a row, and none of them has chosen bottom. #Respect— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) January 25, 2020
On Sunday Lovett will take on fellow freshman No. 19 Jordan Decatur (10-6) of Ohio State. Decatur has lost 5 of his last six matches, including an upset loss on Friday against Maryland. I see Lovett coming out on top in an important freshman tilt. Nebraska’s chances: 70%
The consistently inconsistent No. 8 Chad Red Jr. (12-5) gets his second stab at No. 1 Luke Pletcher on Sunday. The story for Red has been twofold this year. Either he looks like a world-beater, scoring pins and celebrating in style, or he looks like he’s just got better things to do than be on a Big Ten mat on that given night. Against Ohio State’s Pletcher, Red lost earlier this year by major decision 11-3 at the Cliff Keen Invite. Pletcher is 21-0 on the year and has ripped through the 141-pound division with ease, as he’s collected wins against four of the top eight wrestlers in the country. It will take a herculean performance by Red to get the win. He’s certainly capable, but it’s not likely. Nebraska’s chances: 15%
Nebraska’s No. 14 Collin Purinton has been a solid senior presence on this team all year, but his ceiling just isn’t as high as many of the other guys on the team. And on Sunday, Purinton will face possibly his toughest opponent of the year in No. 2 Sammy Sasso (19-2). Sasso is riding a six-match win streak, including wins over then-No. 1 Pat Lugo of Iowa and then-No. 4 Brayton Lee of Minnesota last weekend. Sasso, just a redshirt freshman, is one of the best in the country and it shows. Purinton has his work cut out for him. Nebraska’s chances: 5%
Nebraska’s Peyton Robb (13-4) has been a fairly solid performer for the Huskers at 157. He has generally beaten who he’s supposed to beat while dropping matches to higher-ranked opponents. The 16th-ranked Robb is coming off a 7-5 loss to Michigan State’s Jake Tucker, and I anticipate the freshman coming out with intensity to set the record straight by getting back into the win column against whoever the Buckeyes throw out at him. Ohio State will either go with Elijah Cleary (13-9) or Quinn Kinner (10-4). Nebraska’s chances: 80%
For Nebraska, No. 4 Isaiah White looks to bounce back after losing three straight matches to, coincidentally, the top three wrestlers in the country. The All-American senior for Nebraska will take on 14th-ranked Ethan Smith (15-8) of Ohio State. These two met earlier this year, as White won a 4-2 decision on the way to winning the Cliff Keen Invitational. With a win over Smith in his back pocket and the advantage of wrestling at home, White seems primed for a big win here. Nebraska’s chances: 70%
Nebraska’s sixth-ranked Mikey Labriola (14-5) will take on No. 7 Kaleb Romero for the Buckeyes in the dual’s first matchup of top-10 opponents. Romero is 15-3 on the year with a recent 2-1 win over Minnesota’s then-No. 7 ranked Devin Skatzka, so the sophomore is wrestling tough against top competition. Labriola bounced back last week with a major decision against Michigan State after losing two straight to the two best wrestlers in the country. Earlier in the year, Labriola won a tight 2-1 decision against Romero at the Cliff Keen Invite. So again, with a win over Romero already this year and home-mat advantage, I see Labriola winning a close decision. Nebraska’s chances: 60%
Nebraska’s Taylor Venz (12-6) is another Husker that has been extremely inconsistent. One week, the junior nearly beats the consensus top wrestler in the country at any weight class (Zahid Valencia of Arizona State). Another week, Venz gives up nine points in the third period to lose to the No. 17 wrestler in the land (Michigan State’s Cam Caffey). So it’s hard to determine just which Taylor Venz we’ll see when he takes on redshirt freshman Rocky Jordan (23-6) of Ohio State. The freshman hasn’t come out on top against too many ranked opponents, so I expect the All-American Venz to be too much for the upstart Buckeye. Nebraska’s chances: 70%
In another matchup of top-10 wrestlers, this may just prove to be the match of the day. Nebraska’s No. 6 Eric Schultz (17-2) will take on No. 1 Kollin Moore (21-0). Schultz is riding a six-match win streak and has beaten a pair of ranked opponents during that stretch, while Moore has wrestled an impressive schedule, recording eight wins against ranked opponents. With as good as Schultz is wrestling, it’s easy to see this match being close, but Moore has proven this year to be a step above the competition. It’ll be a tough proposition for Schultz to pull off the upset, but the way he’s been wrestling, it wouldn’t be an absolute shocker. Nebraska’s chances: 20%
It’s unknown who Nebraska will put out on the mat at heavyweight. After starting the year as the starter, senior David Jensen (11-3) was overtaken by fellow senior Christian Lance (9-6). Then last weekend against Michigan State, Jensen was back in the lineup and picked up a 6-0 win. Lance is ranked No. 16, but Jensen was ranked as high as No. 13 earlier in the year. There’s not much separation between these two seniors, but I anticipate Jensen getting the nod against Ohio State’s Gary Traub (18-5). After falling to No. 3 Tony Cassioppi of Iowa and Minnesota’s top-ranked Gable Steveson, Traub won by tech fall on Friday against Maryland. Traub also lost close matchups to No. 5 Trent Hilger (Wisconsin) and No. 6 Tanner Hall of Arizona State. Considering his ability to stay competitive against top competition, I anticipate Traub coming out on top in this one. Nebraska’s chances: 25%