(Photo: Allyson Cummings/WCSN)
When the No. 15 Arizona State Sun Devils take the field against the No. 12 UCLA Bruins, it remains to be seen how the offense will look with Mike Bercovici at the helm. Ask the offensive line, though, and they’ll tell you to expect to see the same exact thing.
”It doesn’t change anything up front, we’re still going to execute our assignments and come off the ball and keep doing what we’re doing,” said ASU junior guard Christian Westerman. “Whether it’s Mike [Bercovici] or Taylor [Kelly] back there, I’m confident in both those guys.”
While many expect the game plan to change to accommodate the different style of Bercovici or highlight the running game led by D.J. Foster, Westerman and the rest of the offensive line insist nothing about the offense will look different on Thursday night.
“We’re going to run the same stuff,” said senior left tackle Jamil Douglas. “Berco’s been our backup quarterback for three or four years, they’re comfortable enough to have him start, so whatever we’ve been running that’s what we’re going to do.”
The simple truth though, is that Bercovici doesn’t offer the same skill set that Kelly does. While Kelly is far more of a threat with his legs, having accumulated 168 yards rushing through the first three games, coaches rave about the arm strength of Bercovici, who came to ASU lauded as a top pocket passer recruit.
Head coach Todd Graham admitted as much on Tuesday when he said that the coaches will have to adapt some to what Bercovici can do differently. According to junior center Nick Kelly, those differences don’t change the basic goal of the offensive line: move the defensive line off the ball.
“Nothing really changes what we do,” Kelly said. “I’ve got all the confidence in Berco. He’s more of a pocket passer so I’ve just got to keep the front side of the pocket more firm and just keep doing what we’ve been doing every week: dominating the defensive line.”
That’ll be easier said than done with UCLA, USC and Stanford on the docket for the Sun Devils. After dominating the defensive lines of Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado, the lineman are reveling in the opportunity to show what they can do against elevated competition.
“We’re pretty excited to show what our offense can do,” Nick Kelly said. “To show what kind of talent we have on offense. We’re ready to get ready and play big teams like UCLA, USC and Stanford.”
That will begin against the Bruins, who have been underwhelming despite plenty of preseason talk that hyped them as a national championship contender. While they have earned a 3-0 record, it came via close wins over the likes of Virginia, Memphis and Texas, in which they allowed 120 or more rushing yards in each game.
Still, with Pac-12 play picking up, the Sun Devils can’t help but hope Taylor Kelly is back in the lineup sooner rather than later. Douglas, who is Kelly’s roommate and friend, said that he didn’t even find out the quarterback was injured until after the conclusion of the Colorado game on Saturday.
“I just thought they were taking him out,” Douglas said. “I’m pretty close to him so I saw his mother and his father and I just told them he’ll be alright, and he will be, he’ll be back soon.”
Until then, ASU will have to rely on the play of Bercovici who will make his first career start on Thursday. And while many have their concerns about the change, it’s business as usual for the Sun Devils offensive line.