For a generation of sports fans raised on ESPN, Penn State vs. Ohio State on the wrestling mat has produced a number of Instant Classic moments in the past few years.
Whether it was individual matchups, like Bo Nickal vs. Myles Martin, or team battles, like last year’s epic No. 1 vs. No. 2 Rec Hall dual or the team race at the 2018 NCAA Championships, wrestling fans would be hard-pressed to list a better rivalry than Nittany Lions vs. Buckeyes.
A nationwide audience will get to witness the latest installment live at 8:30 p.m. Friday at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on Big Ten Network.
The atmosphere in St. John, which seats more than 13,000 fans, promises to be as electric as the 2018 dual meet before 6,699 Rec Hall fans.
“Yeah, anytime the crowd’s into it, it makes it a little bit more fun. Ohio State has a great team, always does, and they’ll be ready to go and that will just add more to the opportunity, so we’re excited,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said Tuesday in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
“I’ve heard a lot of people tell me that (the 2018 dual) was one of their favorite dual meets they’ve ever been at … just two great teams battling in an outstanding atmosphere. A lot of build-up last year. It was exciting, but that was last year. This year, we expect it to be very similar.”
With the potential for eight matchups featuring pairs of ranked wrestlers, points figure to be at a premium. So, it would follow that Penn State’s best chance to extend its 55-match winning streak would be to have its starting lineup intact.
The Nittany Lions had to overcome the absence of two starters — 133-pounder Roman Bravo-Young and 149-pounder Brady Berge — in last week’s win over No. 4 Michigan. And starting 184-pounder Shakur Rasheed looked a bit sluggish in a 5-3 win wrestling with a wrap on his right knee after missing the previous three duals.
“They’re fine,” Sanderson said of that trio. “Yeah, we’re good, good to go.”
The coach said Rasheed’s issue was not having wrestled in a while coupled with expending too much energy securing the first takedown in the bout.
He called Berge’s absence “a game-day decision last week. But you can see him through the window there. He’s wrestling hard (against former Nittany Lion Zain Retherford). He’s ready to go.”
As for Bravo-Young?
“We’re expecting him to wrestle this weekend. We weren’t gonna push anything so there wasn’t a reason to try to get him to wrestle (last Friday),” Sanderson said. “He was coming off a week prior where he injured himself. The more time, the better for him.”
Of the 10 bouts against Ohio State, the most intriguing will come at 197 between a pair of undefeated wrestlers. Top-ranked Nittany Lion Bo Nickal will face No. 2 Kollin Moore.
“I haven’t really watched too much film or thought about that a lot. I’ll probably watch some film the next couple of days. We’ll see. I’m excited to get out there and compete,” Nickal said. “Same game plan. At the end of the day, wrestling’s wrestling and you go out there and do the exact same thing that I always do no matter who the opponent is. Just gonna go out there and give 100-percent effort and that’s all I can ask of myself.”