Q&A With Paul Randolph

With the midway mark of the season upon us and a crucial game against Washington looming large, Devils Digest caught up with Arizona State's defensive coordinator to get his thoughts on those topics and more.

DevilsDigest: Arizona State reached the midway mark of its season with a 4-2 record, 2-1 against Pac-12 opponents. Much has been made of the level of competition the Sun Devils have faced in the first half of the season, including road games against Stanford and Notre Dame. What's your assessment of how the defense has performed overall through the first six games of the season?

Randolph: "Truthfully, you look back and take it as a whole. I thought we improved in areas that we needed to improve in. I thought we lacked in a few areas and we've made gains. I think the guys have worked hard to improve in those. Overall at week six, I would say that we're progressing along well. We started off with a tough schedule. Everybody's schedule is tough but we had an opportunity to improve on our run game and throw it up against some of the best run teams in the nation. Our pass game has been tested. Notre Dame was an extremely good passing team out of their empty formation.

"So we've been tested in every area already as we go into this home stretch of Pac-12 competition now. I think for us, the growth and maturity in some of the young players and the defensive unit are coming together and fitting together."

DevilsDigest: What have been some of those things that the defense has improved upon through the first six games?

Randolph: "Well first of all, our inside run game. We've done a really good job of shoring it up. I think we've done a good job limiting the inside, downhill power runs lately. I think we've gotten better on the perimeter runs as well. Early on, teams were attacking us on the outside but we did better defending it last week. I think we'll continue to see improvement there.

"And then naturally, just our understanding of the defense and executing our pressures and things like that. I don't think there's any doubt that we've gotten better at it. Our stats and all that might not show it, but as a coach in my mind, there's no doubt that we've gotten better and we're just waiting for the guys to turn loose and reap the rewards of all their hard work."

DevilsDigest: One area of the defense that has seen quite a bit of shuffling throughout the first half of the season has been at linebacker. Obviously some of that has been situational based on player personnel and opposing offenses, but how would you rate that group's level of play so far?

Randolph: "I think as a group, the linebackers are working together. They're helping each other and learning to work as a unit together. The shuffling has been due to the fact that some guys just do certain things better than others, so naturally, depending on what team we're playing, the guys will play either inside or outside backer. For us, we've trained them that way from the start. If you remember all the way back in camp we've been shuffling, so we've trained them that way to create depth and I think it's been working well.

"The guys are doing a great job of moving around week-to-week based on what we need and how we want to attack the opponent."

DevilsDigest: One player who has really stood out at linebacker has been Chris Young, who not only has transitioned from SPUR to WILL on nearly a weekly basis, but has also racked up 41 tackles and a sack while playing at an all-conference level. How important is it to have a player like Young to serve as the anchor for the front seven and perform at such a high level each week, regardless of where he lines up?

Randolph: "I'll tell you what, Chris is an intelligent football player and he allows us to use him at multiple positions because he's so smart and understands football. And he understands our system. No doubt he's done a real good job. Of course, if you ask him, he'll be ticked off about some plays he wishes he could have back. When he watches his film, he can see where he might leave five or six plays out there in a game that he could have made, so naturally he's not happy about where he's at and neither I am. But I'm pleased with his progress so far. He's stepped up and been a big part of replacing Brandon Magee and I think Will has made plays when needed to and has stepped up to be that leader of the linebacker group."

DevilsDigest: Last season the Sun Devils finished second in the country for team sacks and returned two of the better pass rushers in Will Sutton and Carl Bradford. Through six games though, ASU ranks 74th nationally with just 10 total sacks. What's been the biggest issue with not being able to get to the quarterback as much as the team would like to?

Randolph: "Well like you said, the numbers are down a little bit but for us, I think we're right on point. You've got to look at your schedule and see who you play and what type of offense they present to you and then naturally that'll determine just how much pressure you're doing or not. But I think we're starting to hit our stride right on time and the guys understand that.

Going into this back half of the schedule against the Pac-12, I think our match-ups with the teams that we're getting ready to play are good match-ups for what we like to do and our guys are ready to get going and show what we've seen as coaches; that we have improved and that we have that ability to impact the game and pressure offenses."

DevilsDigest: Two players that came into the season with high expectations for themselves were Will Sutton and Carl Bradford. Both players started the season slow but Bradford seems to be finding his stride over the past couple of games. How would you rate their performance at this point?

Randolph: "For the most part, they've been consistent. We'd like for them to be a bit better but they've been consistent. I think they're finding their stride but you want them to have those lofty goals. For me, we're only halfway through the season and I think they're going to reach those goals. Naturally, if we're going to reach our goal as a team, then they're going to get their individual goals. They understand that and they're working hard to accomplish that. They can see their success within the defensive scheme and team success."

DevilsDigest: One of the latest changes made to the defense this week has been the move of redshirt freshman Laiu Moeakiola from field safety to SPUR linebacker with the back-ups. What motivated the change and how has Moeakiola fared so far at SPUR?

Randolph: "Laiu can play. He's big, about 210 pounds. He can run and also he's a really good cover guy. He tackles well but he's really a good cover guy. Having been a safety, he's gotten a lot of reps at coverage and naturally this week, Washington throws the ball - they run the ball extremely well - but they throw the ball quite a hit, so Laiu, we feel, can help us in certain packages in defending against Washington going into the game.

"For us, the biggest and most important thing is getting our best 11 players on the football field each day, each week. That's why we're always working and re-evaluating things daily to find those top 11. Laiu has just been showing, showing up, and showing up and we're trying to give him a position and a place to be successful and to play and help us win."

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