Michigan freshman takes charge

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa coach Hayden Fry is praying for rain Saturday, when his Hawkeyes host second-ranked Ohio State.
“It might reduce the margin of victory,” Fry says. “Maybe Ohio State won’t beat us quite as bad if it’s raining cats and dogs.”
And maybe Fry, a master at poor-mouthing his team’s chances, believes the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes have a chance given that the Buckeyes (6-0) fell behind 14-0 against Purdue last week and hung on to beat Wisconsin 17-14 the week before.
Coach John Cooper’s Buckeyes appear nearly invincible, leading or tying in 10 of 12 conference categories, including best offense and defense.
“I think Ohio State’s the best football team in America,” Fry said.
He thought that last year at Columbus, when OSU scored touchdowns the first six times it touched the football and raced to a 56-0 lead by halftime. Cooper rested his starters in the second half, allowing Iowa to lose by a 56-35 margin.
“That’s one of those halves you dream about. Everything we tried worked, and they hurt themselves some,” Cooper 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, matched against 6-foot-6, 330-pound offensive tackle 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.”
Although Ohio State eventually overwhelmed the Boilermakers 42-14 last week and hung on against the Badgers, the Hawkeyes (5-1) have had gut checks nearly all season.
They’ve rallied from behind to claim victories in four of their five victories, including last week’s 21-20 triumph at Penn State after trailing 20-14 at halftime.
The victory left Iowa — like the Buckeyes 3-0 in Big Ten — 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.
Iowa defenders have allowed just three points — a field goal in a 21-20 season-opening victory over Arizona — in the fourth quarter this season.
The Hawkeyes don’t have the glittering statistics of the Buckeyes, ranking no higher than fourth in most categories. But they are tied for the lead with the Buckeyes in turnover margin and boast the best punt returner in Tim Dwight.
The junior from Iowa City, who leads the conference with an 18.8-yard average, broke away for an 83-yard TD return against Penn State and has 263 return yards this year.
He needs just 60 yards to eclipse the season mark of 322 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 ballclub to be 5-1 at this stage,” Fry said. “This ballclub, 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 in Iowa City since a 20-14 victory in 1983. The Buckeyes have three wins and a tie in their last four trips to Iowa City.