Taylor Kelly's injury could ruin Arizona State's chance at a repeat entrance in the Pac-12 championship game. The 2013 Second Team All-Pac-12 QB has commanded the offense as well as he has in the past two seasons; In his 2 ½ games played before the injury he threw for 625 yards and 6 touchdowns, gaining 9.2 yards per attempt and rushing for another 168 yards with 8.8 per attempt and 2 TDs. Even if it was against less than stellar opponents, he was performing at a career-high rate.
Now that he's out indefinitely, it is up to Mike Bercovici to take on a tough stretch of in-conference games. Is he ready? In Short- Yes.
RS Junior Mike Bercovici from Taft High School in Woodland Hills has seen limited playing time the last four years, skipping 2012 where he red-shirted as a sophomore. He was due to take over the starting role for the departed Brock Osweiler, when his close friend Taylor Kelly outperformed and leap-frogged Berco for the job.
Career 10 Games 14/24 112 yards, 4.7 per att. 1 TD
Everytime Bercovici has entered a game it was for reps in a blowout win. Every pass he had completed was within 5 yards of scrimmage. The only real example of his skill is shown in ASU's spring game earlier this year
This was his 2nd completion in the 7-on-7 drill, which shows his arm strength being directly comparable to Taylor Kelly. His mid-range accuracy is also on par with Kelly.
(His first drive in the spring game going into the end of the 1st) He went for a scramble on the second play which is concerning. The weakest part of Bercovici's game is his composure in the pocket. Taylor Kelly has a great ability to stay in, keep his head up and eventually find a target. Bercovici seems to panic fairly quickly and try to scramble. His evasiveness and run-ability are also not par with TK's skill.
The remaining part of Berco's drive. The playcalling for him early seemed to favor passing to the sidelines. If you remember Taylor Kelly's deadly back shoulder fades to Jaelen Strong last season, we could see the exact same with Bercovici.
Now this is what I love about Bercovici and where his ability passes one of Kelly's. His accuracy on deep streaks is amazing. The receiver tripped on the first attempt, which may have possibly been too far anyway, but his second pass was thrown right off the facemask of WR Fredrick Gammage (89). I attended 2 days of Camp Tontozona where ASU has a week of drills and Bercovici was placing perfectly thrown mortars into the hands of his wideouts on multiple occasions.
A good note by ASU legend Jake Plummer- Bercovici throws hard, almost too hard. He had another well-thrown, strong, accurate pass dropped. It doesn't look like he should have the same issue with drops vs UCLA, although these hard passes may catch some receivers by surprise and be tipped which could end up as a INT.
A open route in the middle and Berco nails Marcus Washington for 6. Another example of his accuracy with strong throws.
Two more passes, the latter being a corner pass that is fairly well thrown. If Ellis Jefferson (19) was in a better spot and jumped at the right time that could have been a TD. A pass like that to Jaelen Strong becomes a catch similar to Strong's catch at the end of the first half vs UCLA in 2013.
This is Bercovici's weakness. Outside of the pocket and/or scrambling his accuracy falls quite a bit. Pressure is what the UCLA Defensive Line needs to bring in order to prevent Bercovici getting comfortable. We may see Bercovici doing well until the Bruins' line start to bother him. The Sun Devils seem to always start well in games this year but diminish before finishing somewhat strong. The Offensive Line may be the reason why; in the previous game ASU had against Colorado they were giving the Quarterback less time as the Buffs stepped up their pass rush with more players. Bercovici needs to be able to stay in the pocket and feel comfortable in order to succeed.
So what about the intangibles such as Leadership and Camaraderie with his fellow Devils? Well also good news: Bercovici is apparently loved by his teammates as being a selfless team-player. According to Plummer, Berco told him that he would have rather have waited all this time to be a starter than to start anywhere else, that his sister is a Sun Devil and he no doubt will be one for life.
Long story short, Mike Bercovici has the skill and talent to take the Sun Devil Offense under his command. He does not have the scrambling ability like Taylor Kelly, but he has a stronger arm and at times better accuracy. All he needs to compete is enough time in the pocket, and he cannot afford to panic when it may get a little dicey as his line is collapsing around him. His composure is key, and he no doubt will be nervous which makes the situation worse. He does have the support of his teammates and coaches so he will at the very least give the Bruins a hard fight.
But Wait: If he is unable to perform or is injured, true freshman Manny Wilkins is waiting behind him. Based on his playing time at Camp Tontozona, Wilkins ability to scramble and rush is already more impressive than Taylor Kelly, and he has a great evasiveness that can get him out of trouble. Manny however, does not know the offense completely and the offense doesn't know him completely, which may lead to errant passes and/or INTs. His accuracy already is quite good, with his arm strength being acceptable, as it is still being developed. He also has a fairly good ability to throw on the run as well, but I question his decision making in those scenarios if he were to be entered into this contest against UCLA.