Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly didn’t look too happy as he sat on the sideline in a walking boot during the Sun Devils’ 38-24 win over Colorado on Saturday. The world found out why Monday. Kelly suffered a broken right foot against the Buffaloes and will miss at least a month, according to SunDevils247.com.
Kelly’s injury is a tough blow for a roster hoping to ride his senior leadership to a strong season in the Pac-12. Coach Todd Graham returned six starters from an offense that finished 10th in the country in scoring last year (39.7 points per game). That offense was a big reason why the Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South with the best league record (8-1) in the conference.
Kelly, who has started every game since Graham’s arrival in Tempe, was a big part of last year's success. The quarterback threw for 3,635 yards, 28 touchdowns and 12 picks. He also tacked on 608 yards and nine scores on the ground. During Arizona State's 3-0 start this season, Kelly averaged 208 passing yards and threw six touchdowns without an interception. Balanced by an equally prolific run game headlined by D.J. Foster, the Sun Devils scored 47 points per game in those three wins.
Kelly's injury comes just before Arizona State enters a critical stretch in its schedule. After a bye week this week, the Sun Devils open conference play with four straight games against UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington. Of course, the Bruins have looked a bit soft despite a 3-0 record this season, and the Trojans just got hammered by Boston College. But that’s still a difficult road to navigate for a new quarterback and one that will play a key role in determining the final standings in the Pac-12 South.
Redshirt junior Mike Bercovici, Kelly's likely replacement, has been his longtime backup and knows Graham’s system. However, Bercovici has little on-field experience. Since arriving on campus as a three-start recruit from Woodland Hills, Calif., in 2011, Bercovici has thrown for a total of 112 yards and one touchdown in mostly garbage-time situations. A slew of stout Pac-12 defenses won't make for an easy learning curve.
The question now is whether or not Arizona State has lost its offensive identity for the next month. As a senior, Kelly brought a sense of stability to the Sun Devils’ offense. Does Graham opt to lean more heavily on Foster and the run game? Or can Bercovici mesh with talented receiver Jaelen Strong and keep the passing game alive? Only one thing seems certain immediately: Kelly’s injury makes the Pac-12 South an even tougher division to predict.