MADISON - Before the biggest football game of his college career, junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton felt no nerves.
“I worked as an individual for nine months,” said Shelton. “I felt I was definitely prepared.”
The work showed. Shelton was on point during Wisconsin’s opening game to Alabama. He broke up a number of deep passes in one-on-one coverage by putting himself and his hands in the right position to make a play.
“I was pretty amped up before the game,” said Shelton. “Coach (Daronte) Jones was telling me early on to get off my feet and I told him I couldn’t. I was just excited. That’s the type of player that I am and that’s the type of player I need to get going.”
Shelton was all the rage after starting 12 of 13 games as a true freshman in 2013. He made some rookie mistakes but finished the season with 36 tackles, four interceptions (tied for second-most by a UW freshman) and seven pass breakups.
With high expectations entering last season, Shelton admittedly put pressure on his shoulders to perform at a high level. The result was an uneven season that ended with no interceptions and seven pass interference penalties.
Realizing he had to be himself instead of trying to push the envelope, Shelton was active in create turnovers in the spring and solid in coverage during fall camp.
“There’s a swagger that’s coming back to him,” said defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. “I think he’s playing with confidence now, which is good to see.”
The final numbers Saturday were a mixed bag for Wisconsin’s defense. Alabama registered 502 yards of total offense, gained 264 yards in the air and had eight different players catch at least one pass of at least 10 yards.
However, the unit gave up no big hits in the passing game (Alabama’s longest reception of 33 yards came mostly after the catch) and allowed only one passing touchdown. Those are numbers they hope to build on tomorrow when Wisconsin (0-1) hosts Miami (1-0) at 11 a.m. at Camp Randall.
“That’s our responsibility,” said Shelton. “That’s all you can do is try to do your best and take that away. We knew that was a big part of their game plan, run the ball and here and there take shots. Overall we did a tremendous job taking that away from them. The only thing we can continue to do is keep building off that and try to find ways to take away the little stuff they hurt us on.”
Like any game, Shelton took a handfuls of positives and negatives from the loss to No.3 Alabama. He believes his unit competed hard from start to finish but says miscommunication and missed tackles prevented things from going Wisconsin’s way.
Head coach Paul Chryst said the Badgers missed 17 tackles against the Crimson Tide. The Badgers also had zero turnovers. Those are two stats that Shelton wants to start correcting immediately.
“We played our best,” said Shelton. “That’s all you can do. The best part about it is we get to come back is you get a chance to come back out here again on Saturday.”