When the Oklahoma wrestling team pulled off a dramatic 16-15 victory over Bedlam rival Oklahoma State on Dec. 1 in Norman, it appeared the Sooners were ready to be a serious national contender and the Cowboys had several question marks.
Sure, the score was close, but it could have been a rout had OU All-American Nick Lester and national champion Kendric Maple not been upset early in the dual.
The Sooners went on to win the final four matches to earn a gutty win and end their Bedlam winless streak at nine straight.
Following the loss, OSU dropped three of its next six duals while OU went on to win the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational a week later and won its next two duals to start the season 7-0.
But over the past three weeks, the two teams have been trending in opposite directions. The Cowboys have emerged as one of the hottest teams in the country, and the Sooners have put together four straight lackluster dual performances.
Now, it appears No. 8 OSU (7-4, 2-1 Big 12) is primed to even the score against No. 10 OU (9-2, 3-0) at 2 p.m. Sunday inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“As a team we've wrestled better and there's no question we've been a lot more aggressive,” OSU coach John Smith said. “I'm confident in my team, I'm confident in our abilities. Does that mean that translates to win Sunday, well, if we fight tomorrow that's a great possibility.”
After Saturday's 36-7 win over Cal-Bakersfield, OSU comes into Bedlam having won three straight duals. Each of the three has come by at least 22 points, including a 28-6 win over No. 9 Missouri.
OU dropped its final two home duals since the Bedlam victory, falling 19-17 to No. 5 Northern Iowa before closing out its home schedule with an 18-15 loss to Missouri the day before OSU pounded the Tigers. Even the Sooners' two wins since the loss to Northern Iowa, 20-18 over No. 24 Oregon State and 19-15 over West Virginia, haven't been impressive.
But many of the Sooners' issues have been out of their control. All-American Jarrod Patterson (No. 7 125 pounds), Justin DeAngelis (No. 18 at 157 pounds), and Danny Chaid (184 pounds) all missed Thursday's win at West Virginia with injuries.
Patterson hasn't competed since suffering a knee injury on Jan. 19, DeAngelis is questionable for Sunday, and Chaid (184 pounds) is expected to be out again after appendix surgery last week.
“They're all three banged up, and they're banged up pretty good,” said OU coach Mark Cody. “We were concerned going into a conference dual (at West Virginia) with those three out and that could be the case tomorrow.”
The OU injuries could prevent a rematch of the top two wrestlers at 174 pounds. The Sooners' top-ranked Andrew Howe has been sliding up to 184 pounds with Chaid out. If OU employs the same strategy on Sunday, it means Howe won't see OSU's second-ranked Chris Perry. Howe defeated Perry, 4-2, earlier this season in Norman.
Despite the injuries, the Sooners still have enough firepower in the lineup to give them a chance at sweeping the Cowboys on Sunday. Maple (No. 2 at 149 pounds) appears to have found his national champion form from a year ago while Howe, Travis Rutt (No. 4 at 197 pounds), and Cody Brewer (No. 7 at 133 pounds) have been consistently impressive all season.
“It's tough to compete at this level with anyone out of your lineup,” Cody said. “It's amazing the difference even just one guy can make. But when you still have four or five guys in the lineup that are always competing at a high level sometimes it can make up for it.”