Behind Enemy Lines: Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton

Thursday, September 29, 2016 - 4:06pm

When the No. 4 Michigan football team hosts No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday, it knows it will be in for a physical battle.

The Badgers have allowed just 3.2 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown through four games, but that’s not the only way they have been beating opponents.

Cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal each have five pass breakups on the season, making them one of the most statistically productive secondaries in the nation. Both picked off Spartan quarterback Tyler O’Connor last week in a 30-6 victory in East Lansing, the Badgers’ most impressive victory to date.

The Wolverines’ wide receivers, especially fifth-year seniors Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh, should be targeted often, given Wisconsin’s success at stopping the run, but Shelton and Tindal have made throwing the ball against the Badgers difficult so far this season.

The Daily sat down with Shelton at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago in July to talk about the top cornerbacks in the conference, playing in Ann Arbor and facing tough early competition.

The Michigan Daily: Because of a weird scheduling quirk, Wisconsin hasn’t played Michigan since 2010. Are you looking forward to heading to Ann Arbor?

Sojourn Shelton: Of course. It’s just one of those teams that you just can’t shy away from, especially the atmosphere. I’m hearing from people that I know that played at Michigan, I hear it’s a crazy atmosphere. And they’re a good, solid team. They have a lot of good, solid players. Of course, everybody will pick them to be this and that, but at the same time, when game time comes around, all the teams have got to put it together. I expect Michigan to be a solid team, as usual.

TMD: The classic Big Ten was known as a kind of “ground and pound” kind of league, but now the conference has plenty of talented receivers and cornerbacks like yourself, Iowa’s Desmond King, Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis. How do you feel about the changing landscape of the Big Ten, and do you compare yourself to those other guys?

SS: Of course, those guys are truly elite. You look at Desmond King, you look at Jourdan Lewis — those guys are playing extremely well at football. Whenever I can get a chance to look at their game and kind of take something from their game, I’ll be the first to tell you that I do it. Everybody as corners, we’re all different. We all do something well, and you can’t be afraid to just watch film on them to see how things are turning out and how their defense is ran.

Saying that the Big Ten is a “ground and pound” conference — I mean, traditionally it is, but when you watch the games nowadays and the football being played in the Big Ten, you can see it’s a lot of teams throwing the ball around. Look at Indiana — they throw it around a lot. Ohio State, they throw it around a lot. These teams still run the ball a lot, but they’ve added the passing game to their games and their game plans.

TMD: For the third straight year, you’re starting off facing an SEC team (Louisiana in 2016 and 2014, Alabama in 2015). Do you like starting off facing the top competition right away?

SS: I do. It’s really fun. Those are some games that I’ll take with me and remember for the rest of my life. I remember going to Houston the first time and being excited, playing against LSU. To me, those are the teams that were dominant growing up. Talking about LSU being, in my era, growing up, being one of the best teams in the nation. And then last year, playing Alabama, which we all know how Alabama is every year, in and out. What other way to start off the season to see if you’re ready? We know, just control what we can and start as fast and strong as possible, and just play hard.