IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) _ If the Iowa Hawkeyes stay true to form Saturday, they'll fall behind and then rally. When the opponent is No. 2 Ohio State, the falling-behind part is a lot more likely than the catching-up part.

``I think Ohio State's the best football team in America,'' Iowa coach Hayden Fry said.

Last year in Columbus, the Buckeyes (6-0 overall) scored touchdowns the first six times they touched the ball and raced to a 56-0 lead by halftime. Coach John Cooper rested his starters in the second half, allowing Iowa to lose by a 56-35 margin.

This year, the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes have rallied to win four times in their five wins and find themselves _ like the Buckeyes _ at 3-0 in the Big Ten and just a half-game behind Northwestern.

``Obviously, we're not a consistent football team. We seem to get off to slow starts in the first half, but we really pick it up the second half, particularly on defense,'' Fry said.

The Hawkeyes' latest victim, Penn State, gained just 76 yards in the second half last week and lost 21-20 after holding a 20-14 halftime lead.

Cooper said he doesn't expect the Buckeyes to repeat last year's offensive explosion when the two teams meet Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

``That's one of those halves you dream about. Everything we tried worked and they hurt themselves some,'' he said. ``The difference this year is they're a much, much, much more aggressive football team defensively than what they were last year, based on what I've seen.

``I think what happened last year over here is not going to have any effect on what's going to happen over there.''

Iowa defensive lineman Jon LaFleur, who is matched against 6-foot-6, 330-pound all-American tackle and Heisman Trophy candidate Orlando Pace, hopes Cooper is right.

``I don't think _ I'm not for sure, I can't foresee the future or anything _ but hopefully they won't dominate us the way they did last year,'' he said. ``We're going to do our best and see what we can do.''

The Buckeyes lead or are tied for the lead in 10 of 12 categories in the Big Ten, including No. 1 in running, passing and total defense.

Iowa, on the other hand, is no higher than fourth in any category except in turnover margin, where the Hawkeyes are tied for first with OSU, and punt returns.

Tim Dwight leads the conference with an 18.8-yard punt return average. He broke away for an 83-yard TD return against Penn State and has 263 return yards this year. He needs just 60 more yards to eclipse the season mark of 322 yards set in 1937 by Nile Kinnick, Iowa's only Heisman Trophy winner and for whom the stadium was renamed in 1972 from Iowa Stadium.

``I don't know that I've ever been associated with a team, from a won-lost standpoint, that had more average stats than this ball club to be 5-1 at this stage,'' Fry said. ``This ball club, regardless of stats, is showing a lot of character. They're playing hard.

``We're just making enough mistakes that we're not a consistent football team, but we are winning. And that's the bottom line.''

The Hawkeyes have not beaten Ohio State at home since a 20-14 win in 1983. The Buckeyes have three wins and a tie in their last four trips to Iowa City.

Despite OSU's dominance on the field and on the stats page, Iowa does have some hope.

Ohio State found itself in a 14-0 hole against Purdue last week, giving up scoring tosses of 86 yards and 55 yards on the Boilermakers' first two possessions, before cruising to a 42-14 victory. And Wisconsin gave the Buckeyes all they wanted before bowing 17-14.

``We took the best shot from Wisconsin. We took the best shot from Purdue. I think we can expect that every game we play from now on,'' Cooper said.