LINCOLN — Coach Mark Manning felt his Huskers weren’t on top of their game Sunday afternoon.
And when you’re facing a team that has won five of the past six national championships, you’d better be at your best.
Penn State won five straight matches midway through a Big Ten dual at the Devaney Center as the third-ranked Nittany Lions downed No. 5 Nebraska 27-14.
“We have to get better. Some guys were flat today,” said Manning, whose team dropped to 7-1 in duals this season. “It’s a dual meet. We’d have loved to get the dual. … But it’s not the NCAA tourney, it’s not Big Tens. I’d rather have it (happen) now than in March.”
Penn State’s lineup appears to be strong enough to defend last year’s national title. Five Nittany Lions came into Sunday’s match unbeaten — all five earned victories, three with bonus points.
“We had a good weekend. We had two tough teams,” said Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, whose team also rolled to a 33-6 win at No. 13 Minnesota on Friday night. “(Nebraska) was ready to wrestle. They won some matches early that we felt were swing matches.”
One of those swing matches was at 141, where NU’s Colton McCrystal, ranked 13th nationally, faced No. 12 Jimmy Gulibon, who finished fifth at nationals in 2015.
McCrystal set the tone with a takedown five seconds into the match as he dominated the first two periods. He led 6-2 after one period and 10-3 after two before closing out a 12-5 decision.
“Especially against quality guys, that’s how I’ve got to come out. Punch him in the face early and get on my offense,” McCrystal said.
Said Manning: “That was a bright spot. … Colton McCrystal wrestles like that, he can be a national champion.”
McCrystal said he was motivated by his disappointing finish at Nebraska’s previous event, the Midlands Championships. The Huskers had three champions and two runners-up at that tournament, but McCrystal went 4-2 and failed to place.
“Didn’t wrestle to my full ability,” McCrystal said. “But that was 2016, this is 2017.”
McCrystal’s win Sunday gave the Huskers an 8-3 lead as senior Eric Montoya won by technical fall at 133. But then the Nittany Lions won the next five, getting consecutive bonus-point wins from Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157) and Vincenzo Joseph (165).
The top-ranked Nolf set the pace in his showdown with No. 3 Tyler Berger. Nolf recorded three takedowns in each of the first two periods to build a 12-5 lead en route to a 15-7 major decision.
In another highly anticipated match at 184, PSU’s second-ranked Bo Nickal pulled away in the third period for an 11-5 win over No. 3 TJ Dudley. Nickal was up 4-1 after two periods before tacking on three takedowns in the third.
Dudley came into Sunday 19-0 this season, having earned bonus points in 16 of those matches.
“Not good. Worst performance I’d seen in a couple of years from him,” Manning said of Dudley.
Nebraska’s final win on the day came from Aaron Studebaker at 197. The seventh-ranked senior led 11th-ranked Matt McCutcheon 2-1 after two periods before getting McCutcheon on his back for a pin.
Studebaker, 19-3 on the season, has won 12 matches in a row, but he wasn’t happy how he wrestled before getting the pin.
“I did well on bottom, but on my feet, I didn’t wrestle well at all,” Studebaker said.
The Huskers stay at home for two duals next weekend. NU faces Wisconsin on Friday and Michigan on Sunday.
125: Nick Suriano, PS, dec. Tim Lambert, 3-2. 133: Eric Montoya, NU, tech. fall George Carpenter, 17-1. 141: Colton McCrystal, NU, dec. Jimmy Gulibon, 12-5. 149: Zain Retherford, PS, major dec. Collin Purinton, 19-6. 157: Jason Nolf, PS, major dec. Tyler Berger, 15-7. 165: Vincenzo Joseph, PS, major dec. Dustin Williams, 20-7. 174: Geno Morelli, PS, dec. Micah Barnes, 2-1. 184: Bo Nickal, PS, dec. TJ Dudley, 10-5. 197: Aaron Studebaker, NU, pinned Matt McCutcheon, 6:01. HWT: Nick Nevills, PS, pinned Collin Jensen, 6:01. Att.: 2,373.