Last Saturday, despite playing against a Cardinal offensive line that dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the game, Bradford was finally able to break free collecting seven tackles, including six solo.
"It was about time but that's not the best I can do," said Bradford. "I'm a big critic of myself and I know I can make triple the amount of big plays that I have so far. That's on me. It starts with practice and how you perform in practice because it leads to the game. I knew last week I had to make a couple of big plays and just go hard for my team, which I tried to do.
"Even though it resulted in a loss, I gave it my best effort." Bradford entered the season with hopes of breaking former Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs' NCAA single season sacks record (24, set in 2002), but had been previously shutout against Sacramento State and Wisconsin. While he had been close on a couple of occasions, Bradford finally was able to get to the quarterback during the second half against Stanford, which he admitted came as a relief.
"Finally, right," he remarked. "Even in the games before that I had been getting hits on the quarterback. Last week, I think I got three hits on the quarterback, but yeah, it felt good and it kind of put me back in that pass-rushing mode."
Two plays later, however, on that same drive, Bradford was whistled for his first personal foul call of the season when he inadvertently made helmet-to-helmet contact with Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan on a pass attempt.
According to the new NCAA rule, a player can be ejected from a game and suspended for a portion of the team's following the game if helmet-to-helmet contact is thought to be done with a malicious intent by the head referee, which Bradford avoided.
"That was an accident," he said. "First of all, I thought he was running, so I just wanted to go kill him. That's my first instinct, to kill anyone with the ball. I was just trying to give it to him as hard I can. I didn't mean to aim for the head. I was just trying to play football.
"But after that, he was like, 'Oh, good hit. Good hit,' and we were cool with it but the referee called it. At least I didn't get kicked out for it. That's what I was worried about."
Despite Bradford's breakthrough performance and a valiant second half comeback attempt, the Sun Devils were still humbled by the Cardinal in defeat. Stanford scored at will and in a variety of ways early on, racing to a 29-0 halftime lead while Bradford and his teammates were left searching for answers.
"I really don't know (what went wrong)," Bradford commented. "I know we were prepared for them. I know we attacked them but I really can't key on why we started off slow. We had a couple mental errors all the way around but I think as a whole we did pretty well."
ASU trailed 39-7 going into the fourth quarter but managed to rally for 21 unanswered points to pull within 11 with just under six minutes remaining before Stanford prevailed in the end.
"I love that our guys have that fight in them," said Bradford on the team's furious fourth quarter comeback. "If we can get everyone to do that from the beginning, we could blow teams out. I love that they've got the heart until the end and pushed forward, even though it was 29-0 at halftime. To come back and show them that we're still in this game, I'm really proud of my team for doing that."
Besides the play of Bradford, another catalyst for the spirited Sun Devil defensive effort during last Saturday's second half was the play of redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso. Playing in place starter Steffon Martin, Fiso tallied four tackles, including one jarring hit late in the contest that fired up the Sun Devil defense and sideline.
"He's been looking really good," said Bradford of Fiso. "He's been progressing. He's a young guy who really hasn't gotten to play as much but he's really been stepping up in my eyes. He's probably one of the top linebackers that we have here as an up and comer.
"He's been showing some phenomenal effort and has a knack for the ball. He knows where it's at and is always ready to go get it. He'll cage every lineman and blow them back, so he's really a guy to look out for."
With their first loss already behind them, the Sun Devils hit the practice field today on Tuesday in preparation of their first Pac-12 South divisional match-up of the season when they play host to USC (3-1, 0-1) this Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. The Trojans hold a 19-10 edge over ASU in the all-time series between the two teams, including wins in the 12 of the past 13 seasons. The Sun Devils put an end to the losing streak two years ago in Tempe, knocking off the Trojans 44-23. Each side will be looking to avoid a 0-2 start in conference play this weekend.
"Pac-12 South opponent, it's definitely a big game," Bradford noted. "Even though last week was a big game, it wasn't really about the south. To win the south, you got to beat the south opponents, like USC and UCLA. I think our team understands that this is a big game and one we have to win and we must win if we want to win that championship, so we came out today, guys were flying around and focused and are ready to win."
Bradford, who grew up in Norco, Calif., in the Inland Empire region, admits that playing the local school has always been a motivator for him. Last season, playing in his first game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, he registered a career-high 10 tackles to go along with a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an interception.
"Last year, it was about my family and the hometown crowd," he recalled. "That, and then it's SC, so you always want to perform well against them. Every game I try to play like that but I have a little edge on my shoulder about UCLA and USC more than the others. But I'm definitely trying to go make the spectacular plays like you saw last year and try to get 10 tackles and a couple of sacks."
While he never considered himself a USC fan, watching the Trojans each Saturday during the fall was always part of Bradford's weekly routine growing up.
"I wasn't really into it like a lot of young kids," Bradford admitted. "I knew they were there and watched their games, but I wasn't really an SC fan. And I hate UCLA. I'd rather be an SC fan than a UCLA fan. I hate their colors. I hate everything about UCLA."
After losing to Washington State in week two of the season, USC enters Saturday's showdown winners of their last two games and with one of the best statistical defenses in the country.
The Trojans rank 11th in points allowed, yielding just 11points per game, while also surrendering just 230.5 yards per game, fourth fewest in the nation. USC ranks second in tackles for a loss (9.5) and fourth in sacks (4.00) but will be tested by an Arizona State offense led by junior quarterback Taylor Kelly and senior running back Marion Grice.
Through their first three games this season, the Sun Devils have averaged 38.3 points per game and nearly 470 yards of total offense.
"A strong start is key to any game," said Bradford. "At Stanford we started off late and almost came back, so imagine us starting the game like that in the first quarter, it would be crazy. So starting off strong is a key to success."
The Sun Devil defense will look to harass sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler in an effort to diffuse the threat of junior wideout Marqise Lee. Lee hauled in 118 receptions for 1721 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2012 but has been off to a slow start this year, with just 23 catches for 293 yards and one score in four games.
Lee also torched the Sun Devils for 11 grabs and 171 yards last season in USC's 38-17 win at the Coliseum, something Bradford and the defense hope to eliminate this weekend.
"They have great receivers, like Marqise Lee, and a new quarterback," Bradford said. "Their offensive line is very solid and they're good with the run and the pass, so we'll need to be very assignment-sound and work our technique on them.
"We just need to attack them physically up front. Our front seven, just attacking them and really giving it to them. Being technique-sound and really attacking their quarterback. He's a newcomer, so we've got to get pressure on him and make him feel shaky in the pocket."