No pressure, no problem: UW secondary ready for Michigan

Sojourn Shelton has made some big plays this season, but also made his fair share of mistakes.

Image By: Gage Meyer

Against Michigan State last week, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Wisconsin’s defensive secondary dictated the game. Both starting corners had an interception, and senior safety Leo Musso had an incredible fumble recovery touchdown that was a microcosm of the game as a whole.

However, this is a group that has seen its fair share of struggles this season. Senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton didn’t look very good against LSU, junior cornerback Derrick Tindal wasn’t great against Akron, and the entire defense struggled against Georgia State.

But when everything was clicking against Michigan State, they looked just as good as the often-heralded front seven. After beating the Spartans, a lot of people changed their tune.

“The people who criticize us are the same people who, when we make a big play, be like ‘Man, I knew Derrick was gonna be great, I knew Sojourn was gonna be great, I knew the secondary was gonna be great,’” Tindal said.

He and Shelton will both admit they made mistakes in Wisconsin’s narrow victory over Georgia State, but they don’t think one game should define their unit. They know there’s a lot going into each game, and that sometimes, things don’t go their way.

“It’s gonna happen; at some point you have to realize guys are gonna catch the ball on me and I’ve gotta be able to move on, especially at a position that we play,” Shelton said. “If you let that stuff carry on or linger, it could lead to a lot more bad things happening.”

These corners know that going up against No. 4-ranked Michigan won’t be an easy task because of the plethora of talented pass catchers the Wolverines have. However, the matchup could easily come down to a battle between Shelton and Tindal and the Michigan receivers.

The biggest receiving threat for Michigan is tight end Jake Butt. He will be mostly covered by linebackers in the middle of the field though, meaning the Badger corners won’t be seeing much of him. This leaves tall wide receiver Amara Darboh as the biggest threat to the secondary. With a big receiver going up against the undersized corners, finishing tackles will be crucial, and missed tackles, which were plentiful against Georgia State, will be deadly.

“It’s OK if they catch a route for 15 yards, but it can’t turn into 60 … all of a sudden it turns into a huge play,” defensive backs’ coach Jim Leonhard said.

Besides Darboh, the main focus for the Badgers in every phase of the game will be Jabrill Peppers. The junior dominates on defense and special teams, and dabbles on the offensive side of the ball as well. Despite the fact that he’s arguably the most talented athlete in the country, the Badgers don’t seem to be too afraid.

“We respect Jabrill, we understand that he’s really good, but at the same time, we’re not going to shy away from him. We’re gonna play football as if it was any other guy back there,” Shelton said.

While the cornerback position has been a liability for this team at times, that weakness can be easily negated by the dominance of a front seven that’s one of the best in the nation. When Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt are getting to the quarterback quickly, there’s more room for mistakes in the secondary. However, the corners know that they need to pull their weight.

“We understand that sometimes we gotta cover a bit longer, we can’t expect those guys to get back there every single time,” Shelton said.

There’s a decent chance of the powerful Wolverine offense airing it out against an inexperienced Wisconsin secondary. But if the cornerbacks are able to limit the talented Michigan receiving corps, not only will the Badgers likely win the game, a lot of their doubters are going to disappear.

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