TEMPE, Ariz. -- There is just 60 minutes of Sun Devil football left this season, but it figures to be a fun finale.
Monday's Holiday Bowl match-up between Arizona State and Texas Tech features two explosive offenses looking to light up the scoreboard, and shutting down the Red Raiders will not be easy.
I caught up with ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph to get his thoughts on that difficult task, as well as his thoughts on how his defense has grown through his first two years, as well as some players he expects to break out in 2014.
Now that you’ve had nearly two full seasons in Tempe, how do you feel the players have embraced the defensive system?
Paul Randolph: “We lost quite a bit of guys last year and I think that the guys that stepped in at about the halfway point finally started to feel comfortable in their own skin and in our system. I think the guys are progressing like we need them to. We’re better. The guys understand the system better. I think they are doing a better job of playing together and executing the system better. After our second season, I think our guys have progressed really well.”
What’s it like coaching Will Sutton, a player who has every conceivable award on his mantle?
PR: “When Will Sutton hits the field, it’s unbelievable: his focus, his purpose, the way he wants to work, the way he wants to be great, the way he studies film. We let him do some coaching the other day (coaching the defense in the Scout Team Bowl) and having fun with the younger guys. He knows our entire system, the back end, the front end, he knows it all. It just lets you know that he’s a really smart football player and a guy who loves playing this game.”
Will is just one of a large group of defensive seniors departing. What legacy do you think they will leave at ASU?
PR: “We have a chance, with winning 10 games, to be in the top 10 in the history of the program. If we win the bowl game, we’ll have 11 and be one of six teams that have done that in the history of this school. For them, the legacy that they will leave behind is that they have it turned. They’ve worked their tails off, they’ve bought in, and they have it turned in the right direction. We just have to continue to put the rest of the blocks upon that foundation that they’ve established.”
I must ask, as there is so much talk about another guy possibly leaving with that group: Carl Bradford. Have you spoken with Carl about his decision to possibly leave early for the NFL?
PR: “We have not, for the most part. Carl is an underclassmen who has played extremely well. Right now, he’s focused on graduation, which he just did, and finishing up this bowl game. Then he’ll sit down and decide what he’s going to do.”
Even with nine possible starters leaving, there’s a lot of talent coming back. What are your thoughts on the players coming back in 2014?
PR: “Really excited about the crew that is coming back. The guys that we are returning: (Salamo) Fiso, Marcus Hardison, Jaxon Hood. On the backend, Damarious Randall and Lloyd Carrington. We have quite a few guys that have gotten a lot of experience. Now it’s their time to step up and become leaders and every down players for us. Naturally, we’ll be in the third year of our system. The guys that have been here for three years will have a real keen sense of understanding of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish as a defense, and more importantly, as a program.”
Who is a player that you feel has made the most progress from the opening of the offseason to now?
PR: “A lot of them have. I would say Gannon Conway. From last fall to not playing much to spring through now, I’d have to say Gannon. Earning a starting spot and having a really good, solid season with a lot of production. Then you add Damarious Randall, who started playing six weeks. Salamo Fiso is a redshirt freshman. You can go on and on. Chris Young moving in to WILL backer and having a whale of a season. (Osahon) Irabor goes from being a good corner to a great corner.”
On a similar note, who is a guy who have perhaps flown under the radar in 2013, but is poised for a breakout year in 2014?
PR: “I think Marcus Hardison. I really do. He started coming on here late in the season, finally understanding our system and our expectations of him within our system. I think he’ll have a great shot. Lloyd Carrington is going to get better with time. Damarious Randall, if he continues to progress in the manner that he is, will be a whale of a player and a leader for us. Salamo Fiso just played his first year, so you know he’s going to be better for us.”
Jace Amaro is one of the truly elite players in the nation. What is your scouting report on him and what he brings to the Texas Tech offense?
PR: “He makes the offense go. He can catch deep balls and underneath balls. He’s big enough to block, so they can go in and out of different structures. He can go catch the ball vertically, or catch a bubble to him. You name it, he can do it. Naturally, I think he’s the one that makes the offense go. The ball goes through him. He’s a really talented, physical specimen. It’s going to be tough to defend.”
Facing a team that passes so much and runs very little, what adjustments are you making heading into the bowl?
PR: “Stopping the run. It still is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a passing team or not, you have to stop the run when they try to run it to get ahead of the chains. We have to knock the run down and make them one-dimensional. They pass, but they still run the ball, and they do a decent job of running the football. They have three really good backs that share the load, so we have to stop the run then control the pass”