Bradford, defense gaining confidence

Last Saturday's game versus Colorado was supposed to be an easy win and a chance to correct some of the mistakes that had plagued ASU throughout their first five games of the season. It was also as opportunity for some players, such as Carl Bradford, who've struggled early on to build up some assurance for the second half of the season. After a 54-13 rout, suffice to say mission accomplished.

Carl Bradford entered the year as one of only two returning players in the nation to record over 80 tackles, over 20 tackles for a loss, and over ten sacks in 2012, along with UCLA's Anthony Barr. He also carried the burden of some pretty lofty goals that he set for himself which only raised Sun Devil fans' expectations for the junior.

Through the team's first five games of the 2013 season, Bradford had only tallied 20 tackles and one sack, albeit against some of the bigger, more imposing offensive lines in all of college football.

However, against the Buffaloes last weekend, he looked much more like the player fans have expected to see dominate the field in 2013, finishing the game with four tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in limited action as he sat for most of the second half in the 54-13 blowout win.

"Personally, it got my confidence built up again," said Bradford on Tuesday following the team's practice. "Through the first five games of the season, I was a little down. I wasn't attacking the quarterback like I can and props to the great offensive lines we faced. To play a team like (Colorado) and me getting 1.5 sacks and stuff like that, all of our guys just started eating off the plate. It was a big confidence booster for us and it's just going to carry over into Washington."

The Sun Devils (4-2, 2-1) dominated from start to finish against Colorado, with the defense finally getting a chance to flex its collective muscle after being oversized and at times overwhelmed against some of the premiere offensive line units in the nation to start the year.

ASU limited the Buffaloes to just 268 yards of total offense in the win while forcing four turnovers, including interceptions by three different players and the lone Bradford fumble.

"When we play a team like that, we just try to look at, 'Did we get better,' 'Did we cover our assignments,' 'Did we do what we're supposed to do or did we go outside the box and do some things just because they're lesser opponent,'" he remarked. "We look at whether we got better technique-wise at certain things and stuff like that."

While the Arizona State defense struggled at times to match the physicality and toughness of its opponents during its difficult four game stretch to open the season, yielding an average of 37.5 points and 449.5 yards of offense per game against those teams, it also served as a benefit to the Sun Devils overall, reinforcing the team's overall development while highlighting areas of need to focus on before facing the bulk of its conference schedule.

"I think we held our ground pretty good," said Bradford. "For kind of being an undersized but attacking defense, I think we really did well against the bigger opponents and the bigger offensive lines. Our schemes, our attacking defense got to them and I think we really held our ground.

"Me personally, I'm better against the run now. That's one thing that I focused on all through camp and all of fall, so I think I'm starting to get better there. I think our whole defense is getting better against the run and everyone is just learning how to attack the blitz and not get picked up by blockers. So yeah, I think we've got better."

Those improvements will be put to the test this weekend when ASU plays host to #20 Washington (4-2, 1-2) in what figures to be a pivotal game in the Pac-12 standings for two team looking to make a push in their respective divisions.

After a 4-0 start to the season, the Huskies travel to Tempe on a two game losing skid after falling to Oregon at home last weekend, 45-24. It marks the first meeting between the two teams since 2011, with Arizona State winners of the past seven head-to-head match-ups.

"I think it's a game that we have to have to win the Pac-12 South," added the junior. "They're a great team. They have a great running back, a great QB, and some great receivers, so we can't take them lightly. We've got to go out there for all four quarters and not just a half."

Washington is led by senior quarterback Keith Price - who's off to the best start of his career in the Pacific northwest averaging 262.6 yards per game passing to go along with 12 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 69% completion rate - and junior Bishop Sankey, one of the top running backs in all of college football.

Through six games, Sankey has rushed for 899 yards and nine touchdowns for the Huskies. His 167 yard performance last week against the Ducks helped him regain the top spot as the nation's leading rusher. Sankey also has 14 catches for 134 yards and one receiving score on the year.

"He's one of those guys that makes you tackle," said Bradford. "He'll run through arm tackles, so pursuit's going to be big for us. And gang tackling too. Everyone is going to have to run to the ball.

"This is the best running back we're going to face the rest of the season. We've got to learn how to tackle him and really bring him to the ground because he'll run through our arm tackles. We've really got to give it to him because he's a great back. He's great at shedding tackles so we've just got to attack him."

Washington currently ranks 15th nationally in rushing (248.0) while the Sun Devils are just 76th against the run (168.9). Following its four turnover performance last weekend though, Arizona State ranks ninth nationally in interceptions and 12th overall with 15 total forced turnovers.

The Sun Devils will be looking to maintain their perfect record (4-0) at home this season, something they last accomplished in 2004 when they went 6-0 at Sun Devil Stadium. ASU is currently 8-2 under Head Coach Todd Graham in home games.

"We don't lose at home, that's the main thing," declared Bradford. "We don't lose at Sun Devil Stadium. And with homecoming coming up and all these fans, it's just more hype and more adrenaline for us.

"We just need to stay focused. Don't get too high or too low; just keep that same focus that we had going into Colorado."

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