7 Reasons why ASU fans should have confidence with Bercovici at QBPosted: Updated:
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's official. Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly will miss the crucial Sept. 25 game against Pac-12 South rival UCLA due to a foot injury.
That development ends Kelly's streak of 30 straight starts and thrusts redshirt junior Mike Bercovici into the lineup for his first career start. It also has many ASU fans fearing that the Sun Devils' chances, not just in beating the Bruins, but in repeating as South champions are in jeopardy.
The bottom line is that no team is better when their starting quarterback goes down with an injury. Kelly has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in Sun Devil history, and is one of the Pac-12's marquee players.
However, gloom and doom should not be the order of the day for Sun Devil Nation. While losing Kelly is a major blow, it's not necessarily a fatal one. Here are seven reasons why Bercovici and the Sun Devils can get the job done next Thursday and beyond.
Bercovici came to Tempe as a three-star member of ASU's 2011 class, and has been a fixture here ever since.
This is now Bercovici's third season in offensive coordinator Mike Norvell's system, and he's earned praise from Norvell and staff for his command of the offense. He also has seen spot duty this year, completing nine of 17 passes for 79 yards and one touchdown. For his ASU career, Bercovici is 14 of 24 for 112 yards and one touchdown, and has yet to throw an interception.
Often times, teams need to scale back their playbook when they have to play their backup quarterback. That will not be the case for ASU with Bercovici at the helm. He's a high football IQ player who has earned the trust of his teammates over the last four years, and he is ready.
2) Bye Week
If there's any kind of silver lining to be found with Kelly's injury, it's that it occurred before ASU's bye week.
That extra time gives the team plenty of time to gameplan around Bercovici's strengths and weaknesses, while giving him added first-team reps with the starting offense. During Todd Graham and Mike Norvell's time at ASU, the Sun Devils have used extra preparation time well. Including official bye weeks and breaks before bowls, the Sun Devils are 4-1, with an average score of 49-22.
In Norvell, ASU has one of the best young offensive minds in the game, and he'll put together a gameplan that maximizes the abilities of a quarterback he knows very well.
3) D.J. Foster
He's the nation's No. 3 ranked rusher, with 510 yards through three games (nine yards more than he had in 14 games last season). He is averaging 9.4 yards per carry, and has already scored six touchdowns. He has 14 runs over 10 yards, seven runs over 20 yards, and four over 40 through three games, and is second on the team with 11 receptions for 139 yards, three of which went for over 20 yards.
Yes, D.J. Foster is good at football.
Foster came into the year with Heisman-caliber expectations from the coaching staff, and he has delivered so far. He's been the team's top offensive weapon, and has shown that he can be the workhorse back the team wants, and now needs more than ever.
A quarterback's best friend is a strong ground game, and with Foster leading the way, Bercovici will have just that.
This flows off of point No. 3 above, but beyond the Heisman-like start that Foster has put together, Bercovici will have no shortage of other weapons at his disposal.
Topping that list is wide receiver Jaelen Strong. The 6-foot-3 Strong has 19 receptions for 266 yards and a pair of touchdowns through three games this year, and the talented junior makes any quarterback throwing to him better. Strong's size, reach, and body control give him a large catching radius that eases the burden on a quarterback.
Over the last two weeks, speedy sophomore Cam Smith had stepped up to provide a threat that can stretch defenses vertically. Ellis Jefferson and Gary Chambers provide other big-bodied targets among the wide receivers. Tight ends De'Marieya Nelson and Kody Kohl each notched their first receptions of the year, and both can provide reliable targets underneath.
Beyond Foster, the ASU backfield has a pair of dynamic freshman options. The 220-pound Kalen Ballage has scored four touchdowns already, and can provide a power running option or a dump off receiving target. Demario Richard has shown breakaway speed during his time this season, and is currently averaging seven yards per carry.
Wherever he looks next Thursday, Bercovici will see a teammate than can make plays. All he has to do is get the ball to him.
5) Offensive Line
Bercovici is not the caliber of runner that Kelly is, fitting more into the mold of a traditional pocket passer. Thankfully, he'll have a much improved ASU offensive line to protect him.
Protecting his blind side is the stalwart duo of tackle Jamil Douglas and guard Christian Westerman. The Sun Devils have allowed four sacks through three games this season, and frequently have given plenty of time for Kelly to find his targets. On the ground, the line has paved the way for a rushing attack that is averaging over 300 yards per game and seven yards per carry.
On the flip side, UCLA has struggled in pressuring opposing offenses through their three games in 2014. Only seven FBS teams who have played three games have fewer than UCLA's three sacks, and the Bruins are currently tied for 105th in the nation in tackles-for-loss at four per game.
If these trends hold next Thursday, Bercovici will have a chance to find his rhythm without facing intense pressure.
6) Home Crowd
For a quarterback making his first career start, there's no place like home.
Rather than face the daunting task of taking on a fringe Top 10 team on the road with a hostile crowd, Bercovici will be playing the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium. With the Blackout even for the game, it should be an electric, and supportive, atmosphere for Bercovici and the Devils.
It's worth noting that during Todd Graham's tenure at ASU, the Sun Devils are 12-2 in true home games, averaging 46 points per game.
Let's not forget that Bercovici is also a talented quarterback in his own right.
He is accurate passer with a strong arm, and he has the ability to make all the throws required of him in this scheme. That confidence in his arm lends itself to a Favre-like gunslinger's swagger to his game, and he feels that he can fit a ball into tight windows. That can translate into big plays, but it can also result in costly turnovers if not careful.
Over the last two years, Bercovici has worked hard to improve his mobility. He is now a faster and more agile runner, and while he'll never be the running threat of Kelly, he is now able to make plays on the move and hurt a defense if they leave him with a lane.
As mentioned above, perhaps his greatest asset is above his shoulders. Bercovici's a smart player who knows the ins and outs of this offensive scheme, and his teammates trust him.
The road ahead for ASU was always going to be very difficult, and losing Kelly—the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback in 2013—only ramps that up significantly. Kelly is a dynamic playmaker and a senior leader, and losing him heading into the season's toughest stretch may prevent the Sun Devils from repeating as Pac-12 South champions.
But as the saying goes, the standard is the standard. No matter who is in the lineup, the championship-level expectations within this program remain. While it may be a lot tougher to achieve in the near term, Bercovici and the rest of his teammates can still get the job done.