Q&A with Coach Paul Randolph

As the Sun Devils prepare for another conference showdown this weekend, Devils Digest caught up with defensive coordinator Paul Randolph to discuss shaking off last week's loss to Oregon, the emergence and return of a couple key players and game planning for the Bruins.

On how the defense responded to an early deficit against Oregon last week:

Randolph: "Well I thought our guys played hard. We jumped out early and had a tackle for a loss and a takeaway by Will Sutton. I thought we started off quick. And then I just thought the guys battled and played hard after that. They worked hard but did some fundamental things that we've got to get corrected. Overall though, I thought they worked their tails off and played with a lot of passion and a lot of tempo."

On whether losing by a large margin is any easier to move on from than a narrow defeat:

Randolph: "Oh no, no, no. None of them are. I don't care if you lose by one or lose by fifty, they're all tough. But what we try to do as a team and as a staff is tell the guys whether we win or lose, by the end of the day, we've got to put it behind us and move forward. That's just what we try to do; win or lose, come Sunday, we've got to be focused on that next opponent."

On the effect of losing Will Sutton early against Oregon:

Randolph: "There's no doubt that Will is a catalyst for the defense. He makes big plays everywhere, gets in the backfield and does a great job getting the energy up because he's making big plays and getting everyone else excited. So naturally, losing him, you lose some of that playmaking ability on the field, but that's where the others guys have got to step up and they started to. Anthony Jones picked it up and some of the other linebackers started playing well after that. Davon Coleman had a really good game, probably his best game of the year so far. The guys all understand that they've got to put in their work. We talk about being one-eleventh of the defense and everyone has got to do their part to make it a whole. I thought the guys battled and really tried to do that."

On the emergence of linebacker Anthony Jones:

Randolph: "Anthony started off the year battling for that starting position and understood that it was going to be a fight . He lost it early but the good thing about him is he stayed with it. He kept preparing, kept working and kept his focus and it has all just come back around to him. He's athletic, he can play, he's really fast and an explosive player, which is what we like in our system, naturally. So he has done a really good job just staying in tuned with everything and has worked his tail off to get a little bit better every day. Therefore, he has gotten to this point where in week seven he's starting and playing well. It's just been the result of his work ethic during the week."

On the improved play of Davon Coleman and his move to the interior of the defensive line:

Randolph: "Davon has learned to work. He's starting to see the results of practicing hard, just like Will. You practice hard, you focus, you have a purpose for the way you work everyday and then the results will show up on game day. Davon probably had his best week of work last week and sure enough had his best game of the year on Thursday. It's no question, I think, when he's working and practicing well, then he's improving. And he's done a good job of improving daily each week and getting a little better.

"Naturally, he's big enough to play every position on the defensive line and he's athletic enough to do that also. So for us, he really makes us versatile with his abilities."

On the return of Mike Pennel:

Randolph: "Mike has done a really good job his week in his first week back. He's working hard and working to get better fundamentally and that's what he understands that he needs to do. I think there's no question about it that he's working hard with a smile on his face and he's enjoying being back with the team. And we are too. We're excited that we've got him back. We've just got to keep him working everyday and then hopefully at some point he'll be ready to start playing again."

On the approach of the defensive secondary, who statistically are tops in the nation in pass defense:

Randolph: "To me, they're the hardest working group on the team. They really are. They're focused. Their practice habits are spectacular. They have a purpose every single day. They work on the fundamental techniques that they need to in order to be successful each day. Naturally, the more they focus on it during the week, the better off they'll be on game day. And they've really come together this season and gelled as a unit. They've really done a good job of playing together and it really takes four or five of them to fit and do what they do. But to me, it comes down to their work ethic every single day."

On the concept of the Pat Tillman practice jersey that is being worn by Alden Darby this week in practice:

Randolph: "We wanted to do something really special. We wanted to start a tradition here for the guys, the guys who will always be here even when we're dead and gone, a tradition that players earn the right to wear that number 42 jersey in practice. It's about guys who exemplify what Pat Tillman stood for in his work ethic, in his passion, in the way he practiced every day. Of course we're all going to play with that passion and intensity in the games but it's about how you work every day and what is your focus and what is your purpose. And Darby's focus and purpose has been on point probably the entire time since we started camp and has just been going and going and going and finally we were just like, 'He's the one.'

"But what we want is eleven of them. We want our entire starting defense to don that number 42 jersey. We want it to be a pride thing and it is, the guys understand what it represents. They know what PT 42 represents. It's about being smart, being disciplined, being tough and being passionate about what we do, which is Sun Devil defense. No doubt Darby exemplifies that and he's extremely proud to be wearing it. And now, he'll tell you that he's got to hold on to it. He's got to earn it every single day and he understands that. He represents what we want our defense to look like."

Concerns for the defense line facing a powerful UCLA rushing attack:

Randolph: "Our main concern is stopping the run; every week it is. I think they may be second in the league in rushing, just behind Oregon, so we have a challenge ahead of us in stopping their run game, with Jonathan Franklin leading the way. For us, that's the number one thing that we need to do as we approach this game; to have our guys tackle and be ready to defend. And we've got to execute our assignments to a point and be sound in our game plan."

On facing another athletic quarterback, this time in Brett Hundley:

Randolph: "You've got to be concerned with the quarterback pulling the ball and keeping it, moving the offense in certain stages of the game like third downs and inside the red zone. That read-zone triple that they do naturally presents problems. We've just got to be disciplined in defending their zone, especially with the running back/quarterback duo like Franklin and Hundley."

On defending UCLA tight end, Joseph Fauria:

Randolph: "They have great size at that tight end spot, no question about it. For us, I think when they get down in the red zone, Franklin is still in the mix, but no question they know to throw that ball up or out to that big tight end and they do a really good job. When it comes to matching up with him, we've just got to put someone on him who's big and physical enough to play with him, because he is a big, physical receiver."


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