TEMPE, Ariz. -- Now this is more like it.
Coming into the 2013 season, the expectation was for Arizona State's defense to pick up where they left off in 2012, being one of the nation's most aggressive and effective units.
That wasn't the case early one. While their difficult early schedule was a major reason, the defensive was also playing well below their potential.
That has changed drastically over the last three games. Over that span, the Sun Devils have gone 3-0 while holding opponents to an average of just over 260 yards per game, a drop of 180 yards. Most impressive has been the run defense, which has "allowed" Washington and Washington State to combine for -3 yards.
A primary reason for the defensive resurgence has been the play of junior Devilbacker Carl Bradford, who has returned to his playmaking ways after a slow start. I caught up with Bradford to get his thoughts on the defense, taking on the Utah Utes, and his big run.
One of the biggest highlights from the win over Washington State was your fake punt run. Walk me through that play.
Carl Bradford: “We installed it during the week. We usually install things during the week but never run them. It was just an average punt and I didn’t think they’d call it. We were lined up, and I looked to the sideline and see the signal for the call. I got a little jittery. There was the direct snap to me and the outside was open with Will Sutton as the lead blocker. It was wide open. I ran 20 yards and we only needed six. I enjoyed carrying the ball in my hands, it was fun.”
That 20 yard run well exceeded the combined total the run defense gave up against Washington and Washington State (-3 yards). What has been the key to this domination?
Bradford: “We’ve just been attacking. Been playing our regular defense, and our guys are just stepping up when we need to step up, and we’re not making that man mistakes. We’re starting off fast, which is one thing we’ve started doing well. At the beginning of the season, we tended to start better in the second half and not as fast. I think now we start the first through fourth quarter at full speed. We’ve really been doing what we need to do to get done.”
What do you feel is the defense's mindset heading into the Utah game?
Bradford: “We’re focused. We know it is not going to come easy. We have to focus like we do against every other team and not take them lightly. We’re playing at a high level and we need to take it even higher. We still haven’t played our best defensive game. It’s still ahead of us.”
What kind of atmosphere are you expecting up in Salt Lake City?
Bradford: “They are a really rowdy crowd. I was up there two years ago, and they were really rowdy when we went and beat them. It’s a loud crowd and a nice stadium. We just can’t let that affect us. We just have to go out there, be focused, and play our game.”
Over the last six games, you've amassed 5.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles-for-loss, and three forced fumbles. How were you able to shake off the slow start?
Bradford: “I went back and looked at myself and last year and how I played at the beginning of this season. It wasn’t me at the beginning of this season. I didn’t play to my highest level. Now, it’s starting to kick in where I am really starting to understand it and going hard every play. Chasing greatness ain’t easy, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I know to do that, I have to come out and practice and play hard every single snap.”
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is a major threat with his legs. What is the key to stopping a guy that is such a running threat?
Bradford: “Playing assignment sound is a big key to playing a mobile quarterback like that. You have to do your assignment, you can’t go trying to do someone else’s assignment. You have to be focused, attack, and not go outside the box.”
Bottom line, what are the defense's keys to victory over Utah?
Bradford: “Turnovers. Three and outs, TFLs, quarterback sacks. We need to do what we do: attack. We can’t have missed assignments. We can’t let them have any momentum or big plays.”