The family puppy has developed a routine when her humans are eating.

She slithers underneath her target's feet. No begging or barking. She just sits there silently, patiently, almost stealthily.

If a morsel of food happens to fall from the fork onto the floor, forget it. It's over. She pounces like a lion being tossed a hunk of meat.

This new habit reminds me of the Iowa football team. The Hawkeyes hang around until that mistake comes and boom, they pounce on it.

P.J. Fleck's team can't fall into a mental trap that lurks when it plays for the bronzed pig trophy on Saturday. The Gophers understand that mistakes will doom them against Iowa. But they can't play cautious football hoping to avoid mistakes.

If the Gophers want to end a seven-game losing streak to their neighbors to the south, they must display a level of aggressiveness without falling prey to Iowa's strength.

Everyone knows the identity of Kirk Ferentz's program, the way the Hawkeyes want to win — no, the way they have to win. Capitalize with opportunistic defense and special teams, hope the offense does just enough and then choke the life out of the game.

The Hawkeyes own one of the most mundane offenses in all of college football, yet they remain alive in the Big Ten West.

Iowa scored 24 points in a win over Wisconsin last week despite accumulating only 146 yards of offense. That would be considered fluky for any other team. The Hawkeyes accept it as a blueprint.

Iowa ranks 130th out of 131 teams in FBS in total offense. The Hawkeyes have scored only 15 offensive touchdowns in 10 games. By comparison, Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim has 18 rushing touchdowns.

On the flip side, the Hawkeyes rank in the top five nationally in scoring defense and defensive touchdowns and top 15 in interceptions and blocked punts. Their fans wear T-shirts that proudly proclaim, "Punting is winning."

The Hawkeyes have turned that brand of football into their own form of art under Ferentz. It's not always pretty to look at it, but it's proven to be highly effective. They won 10 games and the West title last season with the nation's 121st-ranked offense.

Fleck has faced Ferentz-ball five times. He's 0-5.

The Gophers dominated the Hawkeyes statistically in 2019 and 2021 and lost both games by nine points combined.

The risk-averse approach in the meeting last season was especially maddening. The Gophers possessed the ball for more than 40 minutes but settled for field goals rather than putting their foot on the gas.

Fleck opted to kick a field goal from Iowa's 2-yard line instead of going for a touchdown on fourth down in the first quarter. Ultraconservative play calls in later situations kept the door cracked open, and the Hawkeyes took advantage. That is how they win.

Scoring will be a chore Saturday in a matchup of two top-five defenses. Vegas put the over-under at 32.5 points, which looks strange for a college football game but feels about right given two factors: frigid temperatures and two offenses that struggle in the passing game.

Fleck did not announce his starting quarterback in advance of the game, but the same edict applies whether it's Tanner Morgan or Athan Kaliakmanis: The quarterback cannot be a passenger.

The Gophers have leaned heavily on Ibrahim in recent weeks as the passing game has misfired. His sledgehammer running has enabled the offense to use a vanilla game plan against inferior opponents. Ibrahim needs help against a defense as stout as Iowa's.

Open things up in the game plan, be more creative, take some chances in the passing game. At least enough to keep the defense honest.

Same thing with game management. Fleck has shown two different personalities in those pivotal situations that leave a head coach's strategy subject to scrutiny. He's been ultra-conservative and ultra-aggressive, with mixed results.

The Hawkeyes remain a hurdle for Fleck's program. The Gophers are fully aware of their rival's method of winning. Their challenge is to dictate the game on their own terms.