For Wisconsin's first two opponents this season, the FieldTurf at Camp Randall Stadium must have felt like quicksand.
The Badgers held UNLV to a mere field goal in an 18-3 win Saturday, the second consecutive week an opponent has played 60 minutes without finding the end zone.
Last week it was Central Florida, harassed to the tune of 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and two turnovers. Saturday, the Badgers bowled over UNLV, making up for an offense that looked like it had donned training wheels. Wisconsin registered six tackles for loss, two sacks, four pass breakups and a safety. In addition, the special teams units that the Badgers consider part of their defensive scheme forced another safety and blocked a field goal that safety Jim Leonhard returned for an 86-yard touchdown.
"Defense and special teams picked up the slack today," Leonhard said. "I'm sure the offense will carry us some weeks down the road."
It has been six years since Wisconsin last held an opponent without a touchdown for two consecutive weeks. The Badgers' nine points allowed through two games this season are 39 fewer than the unit allowed in its first two outings last year.
Central Florida and UNLV do not possess the offensive fire power West Virginia and Akron put on the field in the first two contests a year ago, but it is an impressive improvement nonetheless. Wisconsin after all, allowed 23.5 points per game last season, only three times holding an opponent to fewer than 20 points and never keeping them within single digits.
"We have a different mentality, you know," defensive tackle Jason Jefferson said. "We just want to play hard. We just want to do anything we can to help the team win.
"Right now we are playing pretty well."
Now that's an understatement.
The Rebels could muster just 72 yards rushing and 174 yards total offense, did not pick up a first down in the first quarter and only picked up four first downs the entire second half.
"There's a lot of guys out there working hard in practice every single week," defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne explained. "A lot of concentration's going on on the field, a lot of checks being made."
"We zeroed in on them pretty much," Jefferson said. "We had a good defensive game plan coming in. We just executed well."
New defensive coordinator Bret Bielema developed a reputation for blitzing in his tenure at Kansas State. Wisconsin's defensive line, however, has been too dominant for Bielema to let loose. End Erasmus James led the charge Saturday, with a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries.
Wisconsin's young linebackers have defied expectations and played at a high level in the first two games. Mike linebacker Reggie Cribbs led the team with eight tackles Saturday, followed by will linebacker Dontez Sanders (7), sam linebacker Mark Zalewski (6) and Leonhard (6).
Zalewski sacked UNLV quarterback Shane Steichen for a safety in the third quarter. He also had a sack against Central Florida.
"I think Zalewski's been playing well," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "I think the whole defense played well and he corners it."
Wisconsin's secondary improved from week one to week two. After allowing three receptions of 25 or more yards last week, UNLV's biggest passing play went for 13 yards. Corners Scott Starks and Brett Bell did a particularly good job against UNLV receiver Earvin Johnson, at times playing press man-to-man coverage. Johnson caught four passes for just 26 yards.
Wisconsin stymies opponent again
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