Damarious Randall aiming to lead defensive rebound vs. USC

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- "Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible on that play. That was one of the craziest plays I’ve ever been a part of in my life."

Last Thursday was that kind of night for the Arizona State defense and standout safety Damarious Randall. If it could go wrong for a defense, it probably did for the Sun Devils in the 62-27 defeat.

Things started off promisingly enough, however.

ASU held a 17-6 lead early in the second quarter, and had the Bruins facing a third and two at the UCLA own 20-yard line. Quarterback Brett Hundley soon found Eldridge Massington for a three yard pass, and Randall (circled below) and his teammates closed in for the tackle.

But then, a case of friendly fire turned the entire game around.

“I had the guy in my grasp and I was going to pull him down, but No. 94 (Demetrius) Cherry came in for the killshot," Randall said. "He actually ended up hitting me off the tackle.

"Next thing you know, he’s running 80 yards for the touchdown. That was a game-changing play. We had their offense bottled up. That play gave them the spark.”

Those were the first points of a 42-3 run through the late third quarter that gave UCLA a dominating victory over ASU. It was also the first of four plays of over 50 yards—and three of over 80—that UCLA managed against ASU's defense. Randall believes that those big plays were a product of a Sun Devil defense that was not playing at top speed.

“We were a little fatigued. We were a little sluggish in the second half," Randall said. "I don’t know if it was an early game on a Thursday night. We felt a little sluggish, but that is no excuse for our tackling.”

All game long, ASU defenders failed to make tackles, and UCLA's ball carriers made them pay with big gain after big gain. On the night, UCLA averaged 10 yards per play. While the tackling effort was poor, Randall thinks their struggles may be blown a little out of proportion.

“Honestly, I don’t think we tackled as bad as people are making it seem," said Randall. "It is just a fact that we ended up losing. Even if we tackle the way we did, and we don’t turn the ball over on offense and we end up winning on the last drive, no one would have mentioned tackling. It’s just the fact that we ended up losing. People have to find something to blame on the loss.”

Another significant area of struggle was a lack of pressure. UCLA came into the game ranked among the worst teams in the FBS in sacks allowed, yet ASU could only bring down Hundley once. That continued a season-long struggle for the Sun Devils (currently 84th in the FBS in sacks) in pressuring the quarterback that has placed an added burden on Randall and the secondary.

“We don’t have the guys up front that we had last year; Will (Sutton), Carl (Bradford), Davon (Coleman)," said Randall. "They were guys that can win a lot more one-on-one stuff. We are just trying to do what we can do, trying to cover so they can get some coverage sacks. I feel like we covered very well against UCLA, but he had 30 minutes to throw the ball back there. We just need to put more pressure on them and sending some more blitzing, maybe.” 

Giving up 48 points and 585 yards at home to the UCLA offense is more than enough to rattle any defense, but Randall insists that the Sun Devils are remaining focused on the tasks at hand.

“The confidence level is still real high," said Randall. "We just made a couple of changes, and we’re getting back to basics."

That includes a renewed focus in practice on the fundamentals of tackling.

"We just have to tackle better. That’s obvious. Everyone can see it," said Randall. "We’ve just been getting mental with our tackling. Tackling is really all mental. If you can’t tackle by the time you reach this stage, you just cannot tackle.”

Through the first four weeks, ASU's defense has had their share of growing pains, but Randall has been among the more consistent performers. He leads the team with 38 tackles, with 36 of those solo. His average of nine solo tackles per game is currently tops in the country.

“Honestly, I don’t think about my individual performance," said Randall. "I just see the ball and get the ball. I know that a lot of my tackles are solo and in the open field. I just try to do what I can to help the team win.”

Getting a win on Saturday will be a tough task for ASU, but a necessary one if they want to remain in the Pac-12 South division race. The Sun Devils are hitting the road to Los Angeles, where they will face off against No. 16 USC.

While the numbers are not overwhelming, the Trojan offense is loaded with talent and big play ability.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler has had a hot start to the year, completing 72 percent of his passes for 1,107 yards and 10 touchdowns. Most importantly, he has yet to throw an interception.

But the core of the Trojan attack is once again features a deep and talented backfield. Javorius Allen is USC's top back, and has run for 433 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding 15 catches for 164 yards and another score. Behind him is Justin Davis, who has 203 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage.

“They have two very impressive running backs. They are both big, fast, strong backs. They are very, very physical. They run the ball very well, but on film, they like to throw the ball more than they like to run. I don’t know why, because if I had backs like they have backs, I’d run it 150 times a game. They are very impressive on film. Number 15 (wide receiver Nelson Agholor) is their go to target, but they have multiple weapons out there."

Randall and the defense are facing a difficult task ahead in stopping the Trojans, but he feels confident the Sun Devils' slide stops on Saturday.

“We know adversity is going to strike. We just need to stay calm. Get turnovers. We’re going to create three to four turnovers this game just from the simple fact that we’re going to get more pressure on the quarterback.”