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Be like Mike, but start Kelly
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Be like Mike, but start Kelly

He has been great.

He is a Sun Devil for life.

Every Sun Devil fan should tell their kids where they were when they watched him throw the “Jael Mary” and win for the first time this century at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

He is the starting quarterback for the Arizona State Sun Devils. When Taylor Kelly is healthy, he should no longer be the starting quarterback, and it has nothing to do with him.

He is Mike Bercovici. Other than family members and his girlfriend, I consider myself the president of the Mike Bercovici Fan Club. I’ve had a front row seat to his class on the sideline. He has never sulked about not earning the starting job. He’s never had a secret conversation with the media about the flaws of Taylor Kelly hoping someone would go public. I’ve never seen him roll his eyes or show any negative body language towards anything Kelly does or says.

Bercovici is an excellent quarterback and I believe he’s one the twelve best quarterbacks in the conference. The play of Bercovici has only changed one thing. Kelly needs to be close to 100 percent before he takes over again. Once he is, however, Kelly should reassume his role.

This is not supporting Kelly because of the idiotic idea that you can’t lose your job due to injury. Ask Bill Belichick if he thinks he made the right decision to stick with sixth-round pick Tom Brady when Drew Bledsoe was healthy once again after Brady had lit it up during Bledsoe’s rehab from an injury. Kelly should remain the starting quarterback for two reasons that are exclusive to ASU: scheme and D.J. Foster.

Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell can easily tweak the scheme to highlight the strengths of Bercovici — which he has done. Starting Bercovici, however, eliminates the threat of the QB keeper. Defenses are completely focused on the ASU run game and ignoring Bercovici as a running threat. This is a major component of the scheme lost. If we were in the offseason, I would expect a big shift in scheme to prepare for Bercovici as the 2014 starter. October is not the time to install an offense for a different quarterback.

Look at Foster’s numbers with Kelly at quarterback and with Bercovici at quarterback. Granted, the competition was much weaker to start the season, but that’s not the entire reason. Colorado tried to key on Foster and Kelly killed them running the ball. UCLA and USC dared Bercovici to run the ball by crashing all potential Foster rushing lanes. Although the passing offense looks better under Bercovici, it’s not worth losing Foster over.

This is not Bercovici’s fault. He’s doing well above anything that could possibly be expected from a backup quarterback. He’s proven he’s the number-two starter and not the number-one backup. Nothing more can be asked of Bercovici, it just comes down what do you want? An effective Taylor Kelly and D.J. Foster or just an effective Bercovici?

Arizona State’s season can easily be divided into two segments: BB and AB. ASU “Before Boulder” is who Taylor Kelly was before the injury. ASU “After Berco” represents a potentially knew Taylor Kelly who was able to sit on the sideline and learn from some of the things he has moved away from that used to bring success. Kelly also may be more aware of his own idiosyncrasies that can be improved upon. Here are some things Taylor should see on film after watching the teammate he beat out for the position two-and-a-half years ago.

1) BETWEEN THE HASHES

In Kelly’s first year, he was excellent at using tight end Chris Coyle to work the middle of the field. In the last two years, Kelly has really avoided throwing over the middle. Obviously, Kelly shouldn’t begin to force the ball just to start hitting the middle but there’s way too few shots taken down the middle of the field.

Keep in mind, this is not a result of play calling. There are only a handful of plays where the quarterback is expected to get the ball to one specific person. Plays have multiple receivers whose routes change as the play develops based on the defense. Bercovici is finding receivers down the middle and up the seam. It’s time for Kelly to, once again, do the same.

2) TRUST PROTECTION

Because Taylor is so good with his legs, it’s not a terrible negative that he runs from the pocket. He is excellent at keeping his eyes downfield while scrambling to keep plays alive. Hopefully, Bercovici proved to Kelly that a quarterback doesn’t always have to bail on the play and create. Bercovici may be forced to stay in the pocket because he’s not as athletic but he’s trusting his offensive line and allowing his receivers an extra couple beats to work their routes. Bercovici is better at anticipating the window opening and throwing to a spot. Kelly isn’t wrong for running to avoid pressure but he should wait till he is truly forced from the pocket and not as his first option.

3) DISTRIBUTE

It’s a funny thing but the sooner you brake before the curve, the faster you can drive — obviously on a track with a helmet. The sooner Kelly becomes less reliant on Jaelen Strong, the more passes can be completed to him. Bercovici allows the defense to dictate where the ball goes. Over the course of the game, it opens up the field for Strong to have a bigger impact. The defense is still focused on Strong but they’re worried about everyone. Kelly has fallen into a rut of “where’s Strong?” If Strong isn’t open, Kelly then begins to scan the field — which goes back to the previous point — and then runs from the pocket.

Minus the screens and quick throws, Kelly needs to let the defense dictate the play, especially early in the game. Find his receiver based on coverage and get rid of the ball. Once the defense starts respecting his eyes, the safeties won’t be as quick to take away Strong. More weapons will lead to more Strong.

Bercovici has proven there’s no reason to rush Kelly’s rehab. Bercovici should be the starting quarterback until Kelly is completely healthy. Bercovici has the talent to lead ASU to a Pac-12 South championship. For this team at this time, however, Kelly is still the best option at quarterback. The great thing is this time away for Kelly might have made him better than he was before Boulder.