(Photo: Courtney Pedroza/WCSN)
The only honest answer I can give when asked what to expect from Mike Bercovici is, “I don’t know.”
And I’m not the only one.
Taylor Kelly’s injury has forced Bercovici into the starting lineup and many people are wondering if the Sun Devils’ season is over already. Kelly runs ASU’s offense to near perfection, putting stress on defenses with both his passing and rushing ability. He gets guys lined up into the right play and makes all the calls at the line of scrimmage.
With him out, will Bercovici be able to step in and keep the offense flowing?
Obviously, the problem is we have not seen Bercovici enough. He’s a back-up quarterback. He rarely plays and when he does it’s in garbage time of blowout victories for the Sun Devils.
In three years, Bercovici has played in nine games. In six of those games, he threw the ball two times or fewer and in seven games, he rushed two times or fewer.
That’s not his fault. Bercovici has never entered a game where ASU was ahead by fewer than 21 points. At that point, most coaches just want to end the game as fast as possible, so they call hand-offs to the running back to keep the clock running and ASU head coach Todd Graham is no different. This makes it difficult to make an assessment of how good Bercovici actually is.
The scouting report on Bercovici is that he has a strong arm. Coming out of high school, he was one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the country. Rivals.com ranked him as a top-20 pro-style quarterback.
In ASU’s spread, read-option-based offense, a traditional pro-style quarterback is not the greatest fit. From Bercovici’s minimal playing time at ASU, his arm strength has not been fully tested. He has mobility in and out of the pocket as a passer, but when called to actually run the ball it is obvious that is not his strength.
That’s all anyone from the outside looking in knows about Bercovici. Obviously his coaches and teammates know more but all they have seen has been in practice. Controlled environments and simulated situations. In-game experience is the best teacher, and Bercovici has very little.
Saturday against Colorado was one of the few times we got to see Bercovici in a more high pressure situation. In the three drives Bercovici ran that mattered (the last was a one-play kneel down to end the game) the Sun Devil offense ran 14 plays and gained only 27 yards. Again, Todd Graham was trying to run out the clock but it was obvious the offense was different without Kelly.
The Sun Devils will not need to change the game plan much to fit Bercovici better. A quick passing game with a few shots down the field is already the Sun Devils’ M.O., and that fits Bercovici as a pocket passer. The big change will be in the running game. Because Bercovici is not the same runner as Kelly, it is likely that more of the running plays called will be designed hand-offs to D.J. Foster. This will also protect Bercovici from injury.
The good news is, the Sun Devils have a bye week to prepare for their highly anticipated game against UCLA, whose defense has struggled this year against backup quarterbacks from Virginia and Texas.
The bad news is, UCLA also has a bye week to prepare for ASU’s “new” quarterback. Both teams have this game circled on their calendar as the winner of the past two matchups between has won the Pac-12 South. The Bruins are sure to force Bercovici to beat them by bringing the house and blitzing as much as possible.
How will Bercovici handle it?
I don’t know. And neither does anyone else.