UNIVERSITY PARK — The No. 1 Penn State wrestling team is about to get some of its firepower back.
Ed Ruth, the top-ranked 184-pounder in the country, will return from his one-month suspension when the Nittany Lions (5-0, 0-0) take on No. 7 Ohio State (4-0, 0-0) inside Rec Hall at noon on Sunday.
A two-time NCAA champion, Ruth was banned from team competition after he was cited for a DUI last month.
“To be honest with you, it felt pretty long,” Ruth said. “At the same time I wrestled at the beginning of the year and I did the Binghamton Open but I haven't been competing. I haven't started yet so it's been a long break, basically. This is the start of my season right here.”
Ruth has already to started to make personal changes, too. He's determined to follow his team's no-alcohol doctrine and stay on the right path.
A senior, Ruth said he hasn't missed this much time since he was in high school. He's been remorseful for his actions and supportive of his teammates, too.
“Ed's a good kid. He's a humble kid. And he's an honest kid,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “That attitude there, it means a lot. When somebody's like that you'll go to war with him and go to bat for him. I think it's been tough for him but he understands and he knows that he messed up and now it's time to move forward.”
Ruth's return will likely boost a Penn State lineup that has failed to dominate early like it has in past seasons during its championship runs. Penn State has yet to wrestle with its full compliment of starters this season.
In addition to Ruth's absence, the Nittany Lions have also been without twin brothers Andrew and Dylan Alton at 149 and 157 pounds, respectively. With the Altons out rehabbing shoulder injuries and Ruth suspended, Penn State has just four dual-meet pins this season with three of those coming from former Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor at 165 pounds.
Between Taylor's fall against former Nittany Lion Jake Kemerer and his pin of Pittsburgh's Geno Morelli on Sunday, the Nittany Lions had gone 19 bouts without a fall.
“It happens. Usually, it's not common in college wrestling to get falls as often,” Ruth said. “Usually when guys do it it's a big thing.”
But they've been more common with Ruth and the Alton brothers in the lineup. Ruth and the Altons combined for 42 falls over the last two seasons.
Now, Ruth is looking forward to adding his trademark spark to the Nittany Lions' starting lineup. He's used his month away from team competition to fine tune his scrambling and he's added a few tricks to his unorthodox resume. But he wouldn't reveal those on Tuesday before the team's practice.
“Once you get back in the lineup it's like now everything counts,” Ruth said. “When you're out of the lineup, everything's laid back. You get to actually change something and do something different and work on something else. ... I kind of wanted to put myself in a lot of strange positions and just working (out of them). I just want to see what that helps me bring back to the mat once I start competing.”
That time is nearly here.
Altons' return on the horizon
The Altons are getting closer to a return from offseason shoulder surgeries, too.
Dylan weighed in shortly before Penn State's dual against Pittsburgh on Sunday but was not expected to wrestle. Instead, the weigh-in was used as a dry run to see where the 157-pounder is in his conditioning and his weight management.
Andrew was wrestling live during the early portion of the team's Tuesday practice open to reporters.
“They're looking good,” Sanderson said. “We'll see. Obviously we want them back as soon as possible but we've also got to be responsible and make sure that they're ready because they're both very explosive and powerful wrestlers so they need to be a little more full-speed ahead than your average kid just because of the changing of speeds and the power moves and stuff that they do.”
Since he announced the twins underwent procedures to repair torn labrums in the offseason, Sanderson has used cautious optimism when projecting a return date for the former Central Mountain stars. Ideally, Penn State's staff would like to see both Altons wrestle in competition — either in multiple duals or in an open tournament — as a tune up for the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga on January 1 and 2.
The twins have not been ruled out for the Iowa dual on Dec. 21 and Sanderson could also enter them in the Scuffle and withdraw them after a few bouts if necessary.
“You usually want to get a couple of matches in before you throw them in the fire,” Sanderson said. “This is probably the toughest Scuffle in the history of the event. Not that you're afraid of competition or anything but you just want to ease into things a little bit when you're talking about injuries.”
McIntosh not worried about elbow
Morgan McIntosh has been dealing with discomfort in his right arm over the last few weeks but insisted it hasn't limited him all that much.
McIntosh, a sophomore, is 10-0 at 197 pounds and has wrestled in all five duals for the Nittany Lions this season. He's outscored his opponents 37-10 and earned two major decisions and a forfeit in his dual-meet bouts. If anything, McIntosh said the hefty bandage on his arm has made him less flexible at times.
Sanderson described the wrap as a precautionary measure.
“It's kind of painful but I don't think it's anything too serious,” McIntosh said. “But you've just got to be careful and tape it up and make sure it doesn't get any worse.”
BJC dual getting positive reviews
The first Penn State dual inside the Bryce Jordan Center since 2005 has garnered a lot of positive feedback.
Sanderson and his wrestlers were so impressed by the atmosphere and the announced crowd of 15,996 fans that they're hoping to make another trip to the big venue next season.
“I've heard all good things about the experience, just talking more in-line about demand,” Sanderson said. “I think that's something we can probably do every year and have a great experience over there. That's a huge ordeal.”
And Sanderson recognizes it as a vaunted recruiting tool. The Nittany Lions hosted an official visit and several unofficial visits from recruits who were matside during Penn State's 28-9 win over No. 12 Pittsburgh.
“For young kids looking at that, that's great for recruiting,” Sanderson said. “It's great for our guys as far as preparation. It kind of throws them out of their comfort zone too to go wrestle over at the BJC and kind of shakes things up. That's good. That's life. That's what happens at the national tournament.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.