Q&A with Paul Randolph

There is no question that one of the worst outings the ASU defense had all year was against Stanford. At the same rate, this group has been instrumental in the team's current seven-game winning streak. What has this group learned from that contest and how will it approach the Pac-12 Championship Game this week? Devils Digest caught up with ASU's defensive coordinator for answers.

With the Pac-12 championship game being played this weekend, it may not be the appropriate time to reflect, but as you sit at 10-2 after a slightly rocky start, how would you describe the season the defense has had so far?

Randolph: "For us, as a coach and as a team, when the season starts, you put your head down and start swinging until the season is over. Like you said, it's not over yet so we still have our heads down and we are swinging. The best thing about this season is guys have improved constantly from week one to now and we are still trying to get better today, and everyday."

Will Sutton has won the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row, what exactly does he mean to this team, and program?

Randolph: "Will is our spark plug, he's our catalyst. When he's making plays in the opponents' backfield, everybody feeds off of that. This year he's definitely stepped up as a leader as the season has gone along and right now not only is he that catalyst on the field as a player but he's also walking the walk as far as getting the guys doing what they need to do for us to be successful."

And Sutton's numbers are down from a year ago, but from what you've seen, has every opponent game-planned around him?

Randolph: "The greatest testament to Will Sutton is that his numbers aren't the same as last year and he's still the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. I think the opponents look at it like, hey, ‘we've done what we could do to try to neutralize him and he still made plays.' I think that's the best thing about it. For him, the numbers aren't as gaudy as they were a year ago but he's demanding special looks and game plans against him. That's the greatest testament to him that nearly every coach in the league says he's the best in the league."

This defense was represented very well when Pac-12 honors were handed out. Todd Graham says it's the best team he's ever coached, where does this team rank on your list?

Randolph: "I think coach Graham hit the nail on the head. I've coached some really good defenses in the past and these guys have matured and grown in our system and it takes time to get those defenses to this level. But coach Graham asked these guys to do it in two years. And these guys have pushed, pressed to get it done in the second year. These guys have grown tremendously and that is why we have become the team we are this year."

We saw a flash of the playmaking ability of Damarious Randall in the game against Arizona with his pick six in the third quarter, what is his potential in this defense?

Randolph: "The sky is the limit for him as long as he stays focused and has a workman's mentality. He's a smart kid and as long as he continues to work he will get better. You try not to look back and think what could've been this year if he wouldn't have been hurt early on in the season and things like that, where would he be? But he's progressing at a rapid pace and we just have to keep him progressing along those lines."

When you watch game film from your team's loss to Stanford early on this season, what went wrong in that game from a defensive standpoint?

Randolph: "Simply, we gave up to many big plays. Early in the season that was our Achilles heel. We were giving up too many one-play touchdown drives and things of that nature. You're not going to win and you're definitely not going to beat a really good team like Stanford or anybody by giving up cheap touchdowns."

It seems like Stanford is a different team on the road. What did USC and Utah do well that slowed the Stanford offense down in those two losses?

Randolph: "In this league, it's really tough to win on the road. You're out of your element, you don't have your fans, the music in pregame – you never know what really triggers your team to get them ready to go. So when you're on the road you don't have control over anything, truthfully so it just makes it tough to get them ready to go.

"But I know Stanford, they play hard and they play well. They'll be prepared to play on the road, it doesn't matter where it's at. They will be prepared to defend their championship."

What are some of the keys that you guys will be focusing on in order to stop this methodical Cardinal offense?

Randolph: "We have got to stop the run. The quarterback is really good, but Gaffney is great carrying the football. Their guys up front do a tremendous job of giving him holes to hit. So for us you have to stop the run, and then not give up cheap touchdown passes."

Hosting the Pac-12 championship game in Tempe, can you explain how crucial it is for this defense to have the home field advantage?

Randolph: "Like you said, sometimes you're a different team on the road, well we know who we are at home. Guys get excited. From the minute you come out of the tunnel, the right music is playing, and everything like that. Our guys will be ready to play, they are just excited for the opportunity, We just have to understand the task at hand and we have got to go to work and be ready for a 60 minute battle."

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