Early in the second quarter, with the score still tied at 0-0 and the Badgers driving, the first turnover of the day occurred. Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco was setting up in the pocket and was drilled from behind by San Diego State defensive end Antwan Applewhite. The ball came loose and was recovered by defensive tackle Ornan Nwansi. Momentum started to shift. Is that possible in a 0-0 game? Which, by the way, is the first time Wisconsin was involved in a game that ended in a first half scoreless deadlock since 1995. That game, played to a 3-3 tie with Illinois, was the last tie game in the history of college football. In 1996, the overtime rule was installed. The Badgers held the Aztecs three and out, forcing another punt.
All of sudden - it happened.
What looked to be a very clean tackle by Aztec outside gunner Russell Allen on Zach Hampton, ended up being a momentum shift…except it was for the Badgers. Allen was called for a 15-yard personal foul for 'helmet to helmet' contact - which, by the way, was not the case - and it gave Wisconsin a first down on the SDSU 47 yard line. Wooooooosh. That is the sound of PJ Hill running 53 yards down the east sidelines for the game's only score in the first three quarters. He had to run over an Aztec defender, using his helmet to hit the helmet and bounce off of would-be tackler Brent Sturm, and took it the distance.
"Our defense set the tone for us today," Hill said. "That helmet contact play on them on the special teams excited us. Then we scored on the next play." The Curtis Enis clone had another spectacular day carrying the ball. He ended the game with 184 yards on 26 carries. But, the defense gave the cash so that Hill could make that dash.
After that run, the Badgers held the Aztecs to a three and out. On their ensuing drive, the offense collected two first downs on Dywon Rowan runs, but then stuttered to a 4th and 1 on the Aztec 47. Coach Bielema rolled the dice but the defensive line from California held strong. The momentum was changing again - but, wouldn't you know it, the Wisconsin defense was up to the task and forced yet another three downs and punt for SDSU. Badger defensive tackle Jason Chapman understands the importance of the defense's impetus.
"Anytime you pitch a shutout, that is big." Chapman exclaims. "We shut down a big time quarterback that can scramble." An already growing level of confidence for a defense that returned eight starters. When you hold a team that averages just under 400 yards of total offense, 275 through the air, to, basically nothing - that is a shot of buoyancy worth taking.
Senior captain Mark Zalewski played his best game of the season. He led the defense with eight tackles, four of which were solo. "Zew" got to Aztec quarterback Darren Mougey two times. "We knew that he (Mougey) was very mobile because he had something like five first down runs in their last game (versus UTEP)." Zalewski proclaimed. "When you can hold an offense like that to 115 yards - wow. That is something worth building on."
The Badgers (3-0) will now face Michigan (3-0), who defeated Notre Dame 47-21 inside the house that Hornung, and Montana, and Ara, and Touchdown Jesus built. The Wolverines gained 453 yards of total offense, and their defense intercepted Irish QB Brady Quinn three times. That gets the attention of the Badgers.
"I was watching the score on the big screen between series," strong safety Joe Stellmacher said. "To see them putting points up at will against Notre Dame at Notre Dame? That is very impressive. We are going to have to bring our 'A' game to beat them. If we don't it could be lights out very quickly."
Next week the Badgers face a very determined running back in the person of Mike Hart. Seeing a back like SDSU sophomore Lynell Hamilton, who was only the second freshman running back in Aztec history to run for over 1000 yards, is a good barometer to go from. They held the speedy Hamilton to just 19 yards on 11 carries. Hart, on the other hand, had a good day. He gained 120 yards. But, that is another game and a different storyline.
Because, for today, who really cares if it is a cliché or not. When you hear the phrase "defense wins championships (or games)" - you had better revert back to September 16, 2006.
It is the day that I do not mind someone being a little bit defensive. And that rarely happens with me.