Since the moment that Will Sutton left the Oregon game on the second play from scrimmage, the Arizona State defense has been struggling.
Over the last three games, they have allowed 124 points and 1,364 yards (775 of those on the ground). Now the Sun Devils face off against the mighty USC Trojans, led by Matt Barkley and his dynamic duo of wide receivers, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
We caught up with ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph to get his thoughts on where the defense is at now, the lessons from Oregon State, and how he plans on slowing down the Trojans.
House of Sparky: After the last three weeks, what do you feel is the current mindset of this defensive unit?
Paul Randolph: Just working. It really is. Trying to fine tune our fundamentals and our assignments. Guys have had a tremendous purpose and focus about the way they've practiced this week. To me, they've put their workman's hat on and went to work this week.
HoS: What are the key points you take away from the Oregon State game?
PR: For us, it's doing our job. Doing our job in alignment, assignments and tackling. I think our guys have done well in tackling in spells, but we've got to do a better job. More than anything, we've got to eliminate the big plays. That's our biggest issue right now.
HoS: The defense gave up several big plays on Saturday. What adjustments need to be made to eliminate such breakdowns?
PR: Just getting lined up. Getting lined up and doing your job. That's it for the most part, but of course the opponents have players that are really good. But we've got to tackle. Get the ball on the ground. That will eliminate the big plays.
HoS: How do you think Will Sutton did in his return to action last week?
PR: I thought it was tremendous. Coming off the injury he had two weeks prior, I thought he played extremely well. Will played a lot and I was really excited to have him back in the lineup.
HoS: One guy who seems to have stepped up lately is Carl Bradford. How do you evaluate his season thus far as he grows into the Devilbacker role?
PR: I think Carl is improved. He's gaining knowledge every day of the position and the expectations of the position. You see him after practice working to fine tune his skills. To me, it shows on game day, because he's making quite a few plays. I think he's progressing in a manner that is really good for us right now.
HoS: Heading into this key showdown with USC, what have been the areas of focus this week in practice?
PR: We're focusing on us. The fundamentals. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. We call it "Sight, movement and contact". Eyes, feet and hands. Schematically, stopping the run. They've got three really good backs, and naturally, trying to control the pass with those two receivers they have. They're big play threats. Really, they have three, as No. 15 (Nelson Agholor) is really coming into his own right now, and they've got a quarterback that can get it to them. We have to control the pass, stop the run, play well and tackle.
HoS: Matt Barkley is one of the top QBs in the nation, and is having another terrific season. How will you attack the Trojan offensive line to knock Barkley around?
PR: Our deal is always stop the run first, and then naturally, we want to impact the quarterback. We do that by stemming, by pressuring, and by attacking, which is what we do. But our deal is the same every week. We want to stop the run and then control the pass.
HoS: Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are two of the very best WRs in the nation. How does a team hope to contain them?
PR: Fundamental techniques at every position. And then up front, we've got to help the guys on the back end by getting pressure on the quarterback.
HoS: What are going to be the keys to slowing down this versatile USC offense?
PR: Stopping the run, stopping the run, stopping the run...and then controlling the pass.
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