Q&A: Paul Randolph

Throughout the 2012 regular season it became increasingly evident that the Arizona State defense was much improved over last season. It was a group that prided itself on a perfect combination of aggression and discipline and one that heavily contributed to this year's success. We caught up with ASU's Defensive Coordinator to discuss his group's performance this season.

On the focus of the defense as the defense given that they've had four weeks since last playing in a game

"Well, it was a long season and guys played their tails off, gave us everything that we asked for throughout the entire season. Naturally, the last couple of weeks before the break it was all about academics and finishing the semester strong. One of our goals is to raise our collective GPA every semester higher and higher. I thought the guys focused and did a great job of that and then we slowly started to prep for this bowl game.

"I think the way that Coach Graham has it set up is phenomenal; the old heads get a little work and then the young guys get some extra work also. I thought their focus and purpose has been really sharp for the amount of time that we've spent on the field together; they've really gotten in and practiced with a purpose and I think they've done a great job of that."

On the improvement of the defense in 2012

"I tell you what, from the start, and we're talking about starting all the way back in January when we first got here, I think the guys on our defensive unit have done a great job of buying into our philosophy of what we're about and what we're trying to get done as a defense. I thought we started out extremely well. Guys were excited, explosive and making plays and those types of things. During the middle part of the season I thought we hit a little bit of a slide and gave up too many big plays and naturally that's going to hurt but then our guys, as a whole, came back.

"As evident in the last game against Arizona, being down by ten points heading into the fourth quarter and then coming back to win, I thought that was just how our season went. I thought the guys started coming back out of it and I was really pleased with the guys. I was really proud of our pass defense guys, finishing second in efficiency. Just the amount of takeaways and interceptions, tackles for loss and our sacks, naturally that's an entire unit effort right there."

On the impressive play of Will Sutton in 2012 and his numerous postseason awards, including being selected to the All-American Team

"Will really came into his own this year. When you look at last season, he played well in spurts but just wasn't as consistent. This year though, I thought he matured, grew up and just started playing with a lot of consistency on game day. He's a catalyst for our defense, a spark plug, always in the backfield making things happen and getting the rest of the defense excited and playing well. For us to have him was really big. And then the way that he played, he was just a phenomenal catalyst, or spark plug, or fire for our defense."

On the play of Jaxon Hood, who was named to Fox Sports Next's Freshman All-American Team

"One thing when we got here, Coach Graham said that he wants guys with great character that understand hard work and have a great work ethic and Jaxon fit that bill. When I would talk to him during the offseason when he was preparing to get here, he was like 'All I want to do is play as a freshman. I'm working out three times a day. I just want to play as a freshman.' Well he ended up not only playing as a freshman, but starting as a freshman too. So, it was a big plus for us, especially with Corey Adams getting hurt early in camp and those types of things. But Jaxon, just his work ethic, his mindset and the way that he prepares, he earned that honor and in his eyes he wants to do more and I think he will."

On the breakout season of Carl Bradford

"He's no doubt one of the most explosive and strongest players on our football team, and for him to take it from the weight room to the football field it was just a process of him growing and he did. When Will Sutton went down, we needed a spark plug, someone to step up and make plays and Carl Bradford was that guy. Then it just carried on as the season went along. There's no question he's our ideal hybrid Devil linebacker and he played phenomenally down the stretch, with the sacks and TFL's. He finished with 10.5 sacks. I thought, for it being his first year playing nearly every snap and starting, I thought he did a phenomenal job."

The challenges that Navy's triple-option offense presents

"The challenge is you've got to be assignment orientated on defense in order to defend it. With the triple option, you've got the dive, you've got the quarterback and of course the pitch and different ways of getting to it, different formations. Navy does a great job trying to keep everybody balanced so they can attack you where they want to attack you. No question, for us to be successful, we've got to be unbelievably disciplined in our assignments and alignment.

"And that's one of the things that Coach Graham said coming in, that we've got to be a more disciplined team and we've done that this year, as evident by our number of penalties. But when you play a team like Navy, you have to have just that much more focus on your assignment and I think our guys understand that that's what they need to do."

On whether facing teams like Oregon, who run a spread option system, have benefitted the Sun Devils in their preparation for Navy

"Well, yes, but it's also a whole other type of animal. A few teams in our conference dabble in it, but for Navy, they do it all the time. Other teams try it out, but these guys major in it and they do a great job. But you can't go to sleep on their passing game either. I think they're in the top ten in the country in average yards per catch, so they throw the ball well and make big plays there too. They make you stay honest up front to stop the triple option but can also exploit you with their pass game coming out of that option. They force you to be balanced and keep you from attacking just one specific area."

On the slower tempo of the Navy offense

"Well, the tempo is slow, but that's just from the huddle to the line of scrimmage. Once that ball is snapped it's not slow at all, trust me. But no, they understand who they are and their quarterback does a great job of operating their system. I don't know how many plays they look for in each game but they execute each one of them well. Their quarterback does a great job being a field general and guiding the guys and putting them in position to make things happen with the dive himself or the pitch player. The quarterback does a great job of managing their offense and putting them in positions to be successful."

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