Todd Graham’s 2016 coaching staff features eight members in their first year at Arizona State.
One of those eight is defensive backs coach T.J. Rushing, who has been tasked with improving a Sun Devils secondary that conceded 337.8 passing yards per game last season. Ahead of a matchup against Texas Tech—whose pass-heavy Air Raid offense posted over 5,000 yards passing a year ago—we asked Rushing about how he is preparing his players for the Red Raiders, as well as what lies beyond.
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House of Sparky: You’re someone who’s had a lot of experience playing. How do you instill that and impart it on your players coming in?
T.J. Rushing: I think when I first got here, it was important that I had played before, so then it got them a little bit of trust. But now it’s all about how good can I coach them, and what tips can I give them. And if the tips work, then they start to trust me even more, and then they buy into it.
HoS: You inherit kind of a revamped secondary (on) a team that gave up an NCAA-high in passing yards per game (last season). What do you tell your guys so that they come into this year confident?
Rushing: That I wasn’t here, most of them weren’t here. We couldn’t care less what happened last year—this year, we’re gonna go out and prepare like we’re the best, and play like that, and see what happens at the end of the year.
HoS: Do you have any experience playing against or preparing against an Air Raid scheme?
Rushing: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
HoS: How confident are you that you can prepare your team for that?
Rushing: Pretty confident. I mean, we know they’re gonna pass the ball a lot. We know the ball’s gonna get out quick, and we’re gonna have to show up and tackle, and not give up vertical throws.
HoS: Obviously, you’re going up against (Texas Tech quarterback) Pat Mahomes this week, one of the better quarterbacks in the country. How do you prepare your secondary going in?
Rushing: You try to show them all of his film, and try to let them know how good he is. But it’s one of those deals (where) I just told them it’s hard to emulate in practice just how good this offense is. But it’s a good challenge for us, and we’re excited for it.
HoS: How important is communication in your secondary?
Rushing: It’s extremely important. We harp on that daily. It’s something that we’re working on constantly, consistently, and trying to get better at.
HoS: Physicality is something that shows up a lot on tape for you guys. Is that something you preach for your players to come in with?
Rushing: Yes, sir. Pride ourselves on being physical, establishing the middle of the field and letting offenses know that when they play Arizona State, it’s gonna be a rough game for them.
HoS: You have a lot of talkers in the game, too (like) Kareem (Orr), Armand (Perry). How does that dynamic work amongst the secondary?
Rushing: I think all of those guys have to have confidence, you know? And I always tell them tow the line—don’t get a penalty, don’t talk too much, and get into trouble, get yourself in a penalty, don’t get caught out of your game. Control it. Control the emotion.