SALT LAKE CITY — Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly has Utah roots. Some are so close, in fact, that they’re literally within blocks of where the Pac-12’s reigning Offensive Player of the Week will lead the 23rd-ranked Sun Devils into battle with the Utah Utes Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Kelly’s father, John, was raised in the Avenues and grew up playing football at Sunnyside Park and nearby East High School.
Although born in Denver, Taylor Kelly spent part of his youth in the Salt Lake Valley as well — participating in Little League sports before the family moved to the Boise area when he was around 8 years old.
“I’ve got a lot of family who live down there, both on my dad’s side and on my mom’s side,” Kelly said. “There’s probably going to be about 80-something family and friends who will be at the game.”
It’s especially meaningful, however, for Kelly’s dad. He noted that the impending trip is bringing back a lot of great memories. It’ll also create new ones in his old stomping grounds.
“I don’t think it gets a lot better than that, does it?” John Kelly said. “It’ll be good.”
Taylor Kelly, a 6-foot-2, 201-pound junior, is determined to make the most of the opportunity. Even so, he acknowledges it’ll be a little surreal to do so with Utah co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson on the opposing sideline. He recruited Kelly to ASU.
“When the recruiting process was going on I really liked what he was doing with the program and just how he was as a coach and the staff that he had there,” Kelly said. “He’s a great football coach. He’s won a lot of championships.”
Kelly related his respect for Erickson as a teacher and the job he is doing with the Utes.
“It’s going to be a great game,” he predicted. “They’re a great program and they do great things both offensively and defensively, and we’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game.”
Erickson, who coached the Sun Devils from 2007-11, isn’t surprised by Kelly’s success. He said the former Eagle, Idaho, prep star is getting better and better all the time and is a great athlete and competitor.
“He makes so many things happen on the field. You watch him play and he makes that offense go,” Erickson said. “He scrambles around. He’s just a winner. He’s a big winner. He’s got great character and he’s part of the reason they’re winning a lot of games.”
ASU is off to a 6-2 start, including a 4-1 mark in Pac-12 play. The South Division-leading Sun Devils defeated Washington State 55-21 last Thursday in Pullman. Kelly led the way by completing 22-of-31 passes for 275 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 66 yards and two scores.
“He’s really good,” said Utah cornerback Davion Orphey. “He can run the ball, he can get out of the pocket, or he can sit and throw the ball.”
Kelly, who was recruited by the Utes but never cracked his list of top choices back in 2010, enters this week’s game ranked among the national leaders in points responsible (fourth, 21.5 ppg), total offense (seventh, 353.3 ypg), completions (eighth, 24.38 per game) and passing yards (12th, 313.9 ypg).
From a numbers standpoint, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Kelly may be the best quarterback Utah has faced this season — noting that there’s some good ones down the road as well.
“We just expect to face very skilled guys each week. It seems like every week in the Pac-12, we face a top-round draft choice, or several of them, and this week will be no different,” Whittingham said. “Taylor Kelly’s had an exceptional season so far.”
Kelly, though, deflects any individual accolades.
“We’re doing pretty well as a team. For me, I’d like to limit my turnovers a lot. That’s the big thing for me. But I’m just doing my job and executing the offense,” Kelly said. “My offensive line is doing a great job. That’s the reason why this offense is doing what they’re doing. It’s because of our offensive line. Whether we’re running the football or passing it, they’re doing their job and they’re playing as a unit, and that’s where all of our success comes from.”
Arizona State comes to town averaging 46.6 points per game, ranking second in the Pac-12 and sixth in the nation.
What the Sun Devils really want to score, however, is the Pac-12 South title.
“It’s huge. It’s one of our goals that we want to accomplish as a team and Utah is standing in the way of it and our team knows that,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to come prepared. We’ve had a great week of practice.”