TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State experienced a stunning turnaround on defense in 2012.
Under new coordinator Paul Randolph, the Sun Devils transformed from a below average unit into one of the nation’s most fearsome groups, leading the nation in tackles-for-loss and finishing second in sacks and third in pass defense.
Now with a host of talented and experienced players at his disposal, Randolph is looking for bigger and better things from his defense in 2013.
I caught up with ASU’s defensive coordinator to get this thoughts on what he will be looking for during Thursday’s season opener against Sacramento State.
What is your scouting report on what Sacramento State will bring to the field on Thursday?
Paul Randolph: After evaluating their film from the first game, they played extremely hard. They made a few mistakes here and there, but they played together as a team. They’ve done some good things. Their quarterback gives them a chance to win because he’s a winner. He can run the ball, he can throw the ball, he does a great job of executing their offense. Their O-line did a decent job protecting him last week. The running back, No. 8, is a really good running back. When you look at him in the games, they do a lot of good things with him. For us, it’s about us. We have to continue to get better and grow defensively. They do a good job and they will present some problems.
Do you think last week’s slate of upsets of FCS teams beating FBS opponents has helped reinforce that this is a game that ASU can’t afford to overlook?
PR: Every game to us is a game we can’t overlook. It doesn’t matter who we are playing. Any team can beat anybody. You sure enough can beat yourself if you are not on your game. Our guys understand that. We have to take care of ourselves. We have to be disciplined. We have to be smart. We have to play with fanatical effort.
What has been the impact of the Week 1 bye week on the defensive preparations?
PR: It gives us another week to get better. Truthfully, I think our guys are honing in on the finer details and the fundamentals of each position. They’re also honing in on and fine tuning their responsibilities in each of our calls and defenses. To me, it just gives us three or four extra days to make sure we are on point in our alignment assignment and responsibilities.
Are you looking to unleash a lot of new wrinkles on Thursday, or keep those in check for the tough four-game stretch in the coming weeks?
PR: You can’t be keeping anything back. You have to win every game. That’s our philosophy. We have to be ready to come out and play and execute our offensive system. Our guys are ready to do that.
What will you be watching for on the defensive line?
PR: Coach Shipp has done a phenomenal job with those guys up front. Being better at getting off on the football, attacking, and really fundamentally being in their gaps and playing run and pass extremely well. I’m expecting those guys to have a really good game and executing what we do. It all starts up front. They are the infantry, and they are the guys who have to be ready to go when we hit the ground.
At linebacker, you have some guys in new positions. How do you think the second level will perform?
PR: The ‘backers, I think will do well. The thing we are trying to do is get them ready to play as a unit, as one group. I think we’ve grown toward that. Guys will be ready to go on Thursday night. The biggest thing is alignment assignment responsibilities, and then just playing with a linebacker’s mentality and attitude. I think the guys are ready to play and definitely ready to compete against someone else.
What will be the keys for the secondary against Sacramento State?
PR: The biggest thing in the secondary will be to continue what we did last year and try to make it better. We had a good season last year in the secondary. Our deal is to not give up any cheap touchdowns. No big plays. Our DBs understand to keep the ball inside and in front. With their understanding of that, I think they will execute on that. I like to see them make plays. We like our guys to be explosive playmakers. I expect our secondary—Darby, Irabor, those guys—they’ve worked hard and really come together this camp.
Everyone knows Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, but who are some under-the-radar players you’ll be watching for on Thursday?
PR: Chris Young, who changed positions, I’m really excited to see him play the linebacker position in a game setting. You’ve got Lloyd Carrington and Robert Nelson at the corners, battling. Our free safety position, guys have been competing all camp, so we’re really excited about that. Gannon Conway at field defensive end, him and Davon Coleman have been battling all camp long. I’ve excited to see all of those guys that have been competing.
How close is Damarious Randall to seeing the field?
PR: He’s improved every single day, and we’ll just have to wait and see what his status is going to be. I’m excited about where he is and his progress so far in getting ready to go.
What are your top keys to Thursday’s game?
PR: Stop the run and don’t give up vertical shots.