Chris Ault was absolutely giddy about his Nevada Wolf Pack defense last Saturday afternoon.
"This defense has arrived," said Ault after the 52-14 victory over Fresno State. "This is the best this defense has played in a year and a half."
It was difficult to argue with the Pack head coach. The Pack defense forced five turnovers (four fumbles), knocked the nation's leading rusher (Ryan Mathews) out of the game with a concussion, shut out the Bulldogs over the final three quarters and physically dominated a team for the first time in recent memory.
"They were definitely fun to watch," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said of the Pack defense. "They were flying around, hitting everyone. (Free safety) Jonathon Amaya was all over the place, hitting everybody on the field. That was fun to see."
And they did it all against one of the top offenses in the nation. This week? Well, forgive the defense if it looks like a bunch of hungry wolves dripping saliva on their cleats as they approach a thick, juicy steak. The Wolf Pack, 7-3 overall and 6-0 in the Western Athletic Conference, will take on the offensively-challenged New Mexico State Aggies (3-7, 1-4) on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., PST) in Las Cruces, N.M.
"All we're thinking about is this game and what they did to us last year," said Amaya, referring to last season's 48-45 loss to New Mexico State at Mackay Stadium. "We definitely think about that game and it's something that will stay on our minds this week."
That's not good news for New Mexico State. The Aggies will offer up the nation's most feeble offense to the hungry Pack defense. New Mexico State is ranked 120th (last in FBS) in the nation in total offense (234 yards per game), average yards per play (3.82) and scoring (11.2 points a game).
This game appears to be the biggest mismatch in college football this weekend. The Pack is tied for first (with Boise State) in the nation with 55 touchdowns scored while New Mexico State is last with just 14. The Pack also averages 521 yards per game (second in the nation) and 39.1 points per game (fifth in the nation).
If there was ever an offense that a starving defense could get fat on, it just might be at Aggie Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Imagine an innocent herd of antelope taking a drink in a cool pond while a bunch of smiling lions watch them from about 20 yards away. That could be the scene just before kickoff.
The Aggies, after all, have scored a grand total of 16 points combined over their last four games. The Pack scored 14 points in each of the last three quarters against Fresno State.
"I just feel like we are starting to come together as a defense," said Amaya, who was named the WAC's Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. "We just need to continue to do that the rest of the season."
Ault was a little more reserved but no less excited about his defense this week.
"No, we haven't arrived on defense," said Ault, tempering his praise this week. "We still gave up too many yards through the air (362 to Fresno State). But the thing I liked is that our defense had an effect on the game. They played very physically and made things happen."
Amaya led the way, drilling Mathews in the second quarter and draining all the life out of the Fresno State offense.
"Defense is what energizes an entire team," Ault said. "You can just feel it on the sideline when that happens. That's something that we haven't been getting for a long time. We had it (against Fresno State). You know, when you talk about winning championships, that's the type of defense you need."
Amaya's hit on Mathews - and all of the Pack hits that came after - was something Ault had been looking for from his defense.
"It changes attitudes," Ault said. "Nobody has to say anything. But you can just feel the electricity."
The Pack defense hopes to light up Las Cruces Saturday night.
"We have to keep it going," Amaya said.