Against Illinois, the Huskies allowed 351 yards, including 72 rushing yards. They also forced three turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
“We met together as a defense and addressed the problems that we needed to address,” Shelton said. “This game here proved that we can really step up as a defense.”
When Illinois linemen double-teamed Shelton, it opened chances for other UW defenders to wreak havoc. Defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha had three of the Huskies’ six sacks on Saturday.
Shelton laughed when asked if he’s worried about Kikaha challenging him for the team’s lead in sacks.
“I think I’m going to have to work out a deal with (defensive line coach Jeff Choate) to take him out a few plays,” Shelton said after Saturday’s game. “Hau’oli is a great player. He’s always going to attack and have that mindset to get to the ball.”
Kikaha noticed a difference in Shelton’s intensity when the Huskies gathered for fall camp.
“Danny’s practices have been the best by anyone on our team since the start of fall camp, no doubt,” he said. “He just has way better pad level than he’s ever had. He runs to the ball, he’s consistently physical, his energy is always up there and he’s finishing plays like it’s game day.”
Shelton used the summer to work on pass-rushing techniques with Kikaha, whose 13 sacks last season were second-most in UW history.
While the NFL continues to evolve into a pass-first league, some things never go out of style. There will always be a need for a big defensive lineman who can clog up the run game and bull-rush the quarterback.
Shelton fits that bill perfectly. Projected as a mid-round draft pick before the season, most mock drafts now have Shelton being taken in the first round.
Channeling his anger
Opposing linemen are small fry when it comes to challenges Shelton has faced.
His life changed on May 1, 2011 when the Auburn High School senior saw his older brother Shennon shot to death during a confrontation.
The King County Prosecutor’s office declined to file charges against the shooter, saying that he acted in self-defense.
Shelton dealt with intense anger-management issues in the aftermath of the shooting. He said former UW coach Steve Sarkisian was instrumental in helping him find an outlet for his anger through football.
“The coaches are helping me control my anger and apply it to technique, apply it to the violence in my game,” Shelton told the News Tribune last year. “I’m really loving it. I love the experience and the change I’m going through right now.”
That positive change has also shown in the classroom, where Shelton has made the Pac-12 all-academic team the past two years.
Washington is a 35-point favorite for Saturday’s home game against Georgia State. But a stiff challenge awaits the following Saturday at home against No. 16 Stanford.
Shelton believes the defensive front can provide a big assist to a young and depleted UW secondary. Starting cornerback Jermaine Kelly is likely out of the season after breaking his ankle in practice last week. Two freshmen and a sophomore start alongside standout corner Marcus Peters, who served a one-game suspension against Illinois for a sideline tantrum the previous week.
“It’s football,” he said. “When players leave, other players have to step up. We just tried to put as much confidence in them and focus on doing our job and trust in them to play their position the right way.”
By making game day miserable for opposing linemen and quarterbacks, Shelton is playing his position the right way.