After a lackluster performance last weekend, the Wisconsin Badgers' defense must have been stocked up on Snickers candy bars Saturday.
The unit only gave up three points against Western Illinois a week ago, but was unimpressive in doing so. It was clear against San Diego State that the Badgers were hungry for a shutout—they got one, and in dominating fashion.
Wisconsin held the Aztecs to 115 yards of total offense, including just 13 rushing yards thanks in part to five sacks—four more than the past two games combined.
"We started the week … really challenging our defense," head coach Bret Bielema said. "They practiced extremely well and went out and executed today. I like the response mechanism in them."
Indeed, the defense responded well, and not just statistically. The Badgers were quicker to the ball, sounder in their tackling and generally just more confident in themselves.
It all started up front, where—despite playing without speedy end Jamal Cooper or stern tackle Justin Ostrowski—UW was able to get pressure on the quarterback.
"On the defensive side, we talked about up-front, we needed to make this a Big Ten-style game and I really like the way the D-line responded," Bielema said.
In particular, sophomore Matt Shaughnessy stood out on SDSU's first drive of the game. While the end finished with just three tackles, he came up with two on that drive, holding running back Lynell Hamilton to just three yards on those two runs.
Hamilton led the Aztecs in rushing, but was limited to just 23 yards on 11 carries.
"We were really hungry this week," defensive tackle Jason Chapman said. "We had something to prove and we proved it."
Chapman was on his game Saturday and stood out on a defensive stand late in the third quarter. On first down he put some pressure on quarterback Daren Mougey, flushing him from the pocket where he was forced out of bounds.
Just two plays later, the sophomore found himself in the offensive backfield again, and this time dropped the signal-caller, sacking him for a seven-yard loss.
"It's basically just read your keys and just get off the ball as fast as you can," Chapman said. "That's the way I play and that's how I'll continue to play."
While the defensive front was much-improved from a week ago, the Badger linebackers could have been starring in Duran Duran's music video of Hungry Like the Wolf.
Mark Zalewski, DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas absolutely flew to the ball today, snuffing out their prey, whether it was Mougey or Hamilton.
Twice in the second quarter Levy and Zalewski teamed up to drag down Mougey and Zalewski grabbed another sack by himself in the third quarter. Backup mike linebacker Elijah Hodge grabbed the fifth sack for the defense, which was highly touted heading into the season but had mustered just one sack in the first two games.
"We were very hungry coming out today," Casillas said. "We weren't looking ahead to Michigan; we settled in today and knew exactly what was coming to us."
The linebackers were hungry, and they ate well. When they were not tackling Mougey, they were hitting someone else. Zalewski led the Badgers with eight tackles on the day and Levy and Casillas tied for second with six apiece.
"Starving is the word," Levy said. "There was a lot of criticism … and we weren't satisfied. This week we got it done."
And while the defensive backs did not get tested with the deep ball like some had expected, they were certainly feeling the effects of hunger as well.
Senior safety Joe Stellmacher had six tackles and sophomore cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu looked solid, breaking up what seemed to be a few passes, though he was only officially credited for one.
The Madison native divulged that there was a different, incentive-based hunger on his mind.
"[The shutout is] exciting because [defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz] was telling us that if we shut out a team he'd take us all out for a steak dinner," Ikegwuonu said. "So I'm going to be looking for my payment pretty soon.
"It's just really exciting to know that every position on defense … we all played together."
A different mentality could clearly be seen on the field Saturday afternoon, and that difference becomes even more magnified with a quick comparison of statistics between the past two games.
Western Illinois gained 16 first downs last weekend. This time around SDSU had just seven.
The Leathernecks accumulated 131 more yards against UW than the Aztecs did Saturday.
And most importantly, the Badgers got off the field. While Western Illinois converted on eight of 16 third-down attempts last weekend, San Diego State converted just two third downs all day Saturday. In fact, after starting the game 2-for-2, it went 0-for-14 the rest of the way.
After a big meal on Saturday, the Badgers should have big stomachs heading into next weekend's conference opener at Michigan. There is no doubt that those stomachs will be rumbling when UW rolls into the Big House.
"We're going to watch film this week and be even better next week," Casillas said. "[The win over Notre Dame shows] Michigan is ready to play. I want to get the best of the best and Michigan is playing good ball right now. We want to be able to get them next week when they're at their best."