Q&A with Paul Randolph

Head coach Todd Graham recently said that the ASU defense is playing at its highest level since he arrived here, and judging by the team's five-game winning streak you would be hard pressed to argue with that notion. What are some of the areas where this unit excels at and who has stood out? We caught up with Arizona State's defensive coordinator to get his thoughts on his group's performance.

With the offense struggling the last two games, did you feel like it was the defense's responsibility to keep the team afloat?

Randolph: "For us, we don't look at it like that. For us it's just us trying to get better defensively, handling our 1/3rd of the team. And special teams because a lot of our guys play special teams. But for us, it's just us trying to get better each week. The thing about the guys is they've been fighting tooth and nail. They've been fighting to get better and have been finishing games extremely well, getting stronger in the fourth quarter. Those are the things that I'm excited about. Our guys understand that they are just trying to take care of their 1/11th on defense and as a unit the 1/3rd of the team."

Cornerback Robert Nelson was a guy that had his share of missed assignments and just poor games in general in the early parts of the season, but as of late, he's turned it on and has made some crucial plays down the stretch to seal wins for this team. What has been the cause of his excelled play lately?

Randolph: "Well I think coach Lorig has done a tremendous job on just working fundamental technique and then also teaching him schematically what we do and how we do it; and Robert being smart enough to take it in and to try to execute what we've been teaching him. I think that's the biggest thing. He's playing well right now and has had an unbelievable amount of interceptions these last two or three weeks and we want to continue that. But I think the biggest thing is Robert working hard every day and his attention to detail at fundamentals of his position."

Chris Young looks like he's solidified his spot at WILL linebacker and has taken over control of this defense, what's your evaluation on that?

Randolph: "I think Chris has done a great job, I really do. He's settled in and his production has picked up with that. So I think he's finally settling in and knows that he's going to be the Will linebacker and he's doing a tremendous job at it. When you have a guy that's talented like he is, who's smart like he is, that knows all three positions, it's hard not to try and put him in the best place to make the best play. Now that he has settled in it has allowed him to be able to make the plays that he's been able to make and to give us a chance to be successful on defense."

Field Safety was a primary concern for this team from the offseason and into the early parts of the regular season. Damarious Randall hit the ground running against Notre Dame and it looks like he's provided the type of consistent play that you guys are looking for at that spot.

Randolph: "He's playing well, but he missed a lot of reps over the summer. What you see right now is only going to get better. He missed an entire camp, 30 some-odd practices, which he has been trying to catch up and make up for. So I think he's only going to get better; his production is going to pick up the more he plays and practices. I think you'll see continued improvement with him each passing week."

UCLA linebacker/running back Myles Jack has created quite the buzz around the conference and the nation with his recent performances against Arizona and Washington. What are some of the challenges as a runner that he poses for your defense this week?

Randolph: "He's a big and physical running back. He understands what to do with the ball and that's to get downhill, run extremely hard and make guys tackle you. That's the biggest thing. He has good hands and can catch the ball so you have to be alert for them extending the package. For me, I think he's just a big running back that runs hard and naturally we are going to have to have more than one guy at the tackle when he's carrying the football."

Obviously UCLA's Brett Hundley is a solid quarterback, and he showed what he could do last year against ASU in Tempe. What are some of the things this defense has to do to contain him on Saturday?

Randolph: "He's having a phenomenal season, he's in the top five in rushing in the conference. We know he can throw the football but it's his legs that make him dangerous. We have got to be smart – he got loose on us a couple of times last year and converted on some big third downs. So you have got to be alert to him because he can hurt you with his legs as well as his arm."

UCLA has a very efficient passing game this year -- ranked second in the conference in that category – and that may be a factor of a majority of their play calls being quick passes to the flats and high percentage throws underneath. Is that something that as a defense you'll be very aggressive to stop this weekend?

Randolph: "Hundley also has the ability to throw a deep ball as well and he got us with that a couple of times. So if you're sitting there hovering on those shallow routes you're going to give up a quick one. The biggest thing for us is to not give up quick touchdowns, keep everything in front and make the tackle. Live to play another play."

What's the attitude of this defense coming into this game? It seems as if the confidence of the group is as high as it's ever been.

Randolph: "The guys are confident; they are playing together as a unit and that's the most important thing. They're having some success but we are still giving up too many big plays. But I think the guys have a certain amount of confidence which they should and hopefully they can just continue to build upon that this week in practice and carry that on over into the game."

What's it like to be a part of this big of a game as a defensive coordinator?

Randolph: "To me, we talk about it being another game, but UCLA got us last year and the winner of that game went on to be in the Pac-12 championship. It looks like that's the case now and it just comes down to us playing our game. We have to be prepared for it and I think we will be by the time it kicks off on Saturday."

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