TEMPE, Ariz. — The ball just seemed to hang in the air, waiting for someone, anyone to grab it.
Redshirt junior receiver Gary Chambers did, hauling in what would be quarterback Taylor Kelly’s 25th and final pass attempt of the night, a seven-yard throw into the end zone.
“I didn’t see Gary catch it,” Kelly said. “I just heard our fans and guys cheering that we scored.”
Kelly missed seeing Chambers catch the go-ahead score in Arizona State’s victory at Washington last week because he was on the ground, the result of a helmet-to-helmet hit by a defender.
After the play, Kelly appeared dazed, though he said he did not suffer a concussion.
“I just got hit pretty hard,” he said. “The doctors were just checking me out. Precautionary. That’s what their job is to do is to protect us and they did a great job with that.”
Kelly added he would’ve gone back into the game if the offense had returned onto the field, but freshman corner Armand Perry made that a moot point with his 61-yard pick-six that sealed the 24-10 win, improving 15th-ranked ASU to 6-1 on the year.
In his first action in six weeks following a right foot injury, Kelly was hit-and-miss, completing 14-of-25 for a season-low 180 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“It felt great to be back. I’ve got to get better. It’s not what I want to be,” he said, pointing to the turnover and being sacked a season-high seven times. “I have high goals for myself and so I didn’t play very well.”
In fairness, the weather conditions — high winds and the occasional rain shower — were far from ideal, but Kelly refused to blame Mother Nature for his performance.
“My timing was a little off,” he said. “Just my pocket presence, the clock in my head of keeping the football, holding it on too long a little bit. I’ve got to get rid of it quicker. That’s one of the things I’ve been working on this week…really having game speed throughout practice.”
Offensive coordinator and deputy head coach Mike Norvell said he noticed Kelly practicing this week — without restrictions, it should be noted — with an “added bounce in his step.”
“Obviously there’s a little bit of rust there the first game back not playing in six weeks,” Norvell said. “Some things we’re going to get cleaned up, getting back adjusting to the speed of the game. But he responded like the champion that I know he is.”
With the game tied at 10 midway through the fourth quarter, Kelly orchestrated a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive in which he went 3-of-3 for 36 yards and added a 12-yard run, leading up to the touchdown to Chambers.
“My first read wasn’t open to Kody (Kohl) and I saw man-to-man with Gary,” Kelly said. “I tried to put it up over the top, and I think the wind might have caught, or me getting hit might have not of put enough on it. But Gary made an unbelievable play on it of coming back to the football and making a big play.”
Saturday, the Sun Devils host 18th-ranked Utah, a team that is also 6-1 in the Pac-12 South.
“It’s going to be a battle this week,” Kelly said.
ASU and Utah, as well as Arizona, which plays at UCLA, all have one conference loss, meaning all control their own destiny entering November.
“It’s a dream come true. That’s what you want. You want to be in the driver’s seat of your own destiny,” Kelly said. “You don’t want rely on other people to lose or to win. We have that opportunity, and we’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity we have.”