In Arizona State’s season opener against the Hornets of Sacramento State, quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 74.2 percent of his passes. On Saturday, in ASU’s biggest game in years, versus the Bruins of UCLA, Kelly completed 74.1 percent of his passes — his second-most accurate performance of the season — en route to a 38-33 win.
After a revelatory season for the Sun Devils last season, Kelly has thrust himself into national focus, throwing for 3,063 yards and 25 touchdowns through his first 11 games while leading ASU to a 9-2 record and a Pac-12 South division title.
His coaches couldn’t be more pleased.
“He’s a tremendous young man to coach,” ASU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Norvell told Doug and Wolf on Monday.
Kelly, a junior out of Eagle, Idaho, may have been at his best Saturday, on the most important night of his young career, playing for the Pac-12 South division title on FOX’s national broadcast. Even Norvell, Kelly’s designated critic, by trade, agrees.
“I thought the way he played there, in the first half especially, was as good of a performance on a big stage that I’ve seen any quarterback have,” the second-year coordinator said.
The quarterback’s numbers weren’t quite as padded as they were, say, against Notre Dame, when he threw for 362 yards, or Washington State, against whom he tosses five touchdowns, but the aforementioned accuracy, along with another part of his game, made the showing stand out to coaches.
“He took the game over, was great with his reads,” Novell said, “(and) he really hurt UCLA with his legs — was a true dual threat.”
Kelly, who has slowly but surely outed himself as a legitimate rusher over the course of the last two seasons, perhaps surprised the Bruins by rushing for a career-high 99 yards on Saturday, outrushing his opponent’s own dual threat quarterback, Brett Hundley, who was held to a season-low five yards rushing in the game.
Adding a second threat to his already-efficient passing game begs the question — how could the second-year starter possibly improve?
His designated critic, Norvell, has the answer. The gist? More of the same.
“When Taylor is a threat to run, the defense has to account (for him),” says Norvell.
“If the defense is not accounting for him, I want him to hurt them with his legs.”
Clearly, tangibly — statistically — Norvell and the Devils’ offense are in a great place with Kelly at the helm. But the quarterback’s value can’t be summed up by a stat sheet, nor by a glimpse at his team’s record. There are mentionable intangibles, too.
“He’s a great leader,” Norvell boasted. “This football team follows him. He’s a guy that consistently comes to work every single day, you know, pushing himself to be the best.
“Taylor has a great deal of confidence,” he went on. “(He) is probably the best team guy that we have on this unit.
“He wants to do whatever we’ve got to do to win.”
So far, he’s done just that.
The Sun Devils (9-2) prepare to host in-state rival Arizona (7-4) on Saturday before advancing to the Pac-12 Championship, which they would host with a win.