(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
A few weeks ago, many people around the Pac-12 were asking, “What will the Arizona State offense look like with backup quarterback Mike Bercovici in?”
The answer after two games: Pretty darn good.
Bercovici picked apart two of the most talented defenses in the country in UCLA and USC, as he threw for 998 of the team’s 1,167 total yards in those two games. The Sun Devils split the games but no one can fault Bercovici for that. Many consider the pick-six he threw late in the first half against UCLA as a turning point in the game that led to the Sun Devils losing. This is pretty small-minded considering the Sun Devils lost by five touchdowns.
It seems ridiculous after two games to speculate what the Sun Devil offense will look like next season when Bercovici enters as the full-time starter, but the Sun Devils are on a bye, so we’re going to do it anyway.
Shift in Philosophy
After two games, it is obvious the Sun Devils want to throw the ball more with Bercovici. He ran a pro-style offense in high school and came to ASU as a highly rated pocket-passer. He is not a runner and he has a stronger arm than Taylor Kelly, which gives the Sun Devils more ability to stretch the field vertically.
Head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell have recognized this and incorporated it into the offensive strategy.
In 2012, the Sun Devils ran the ball on 59 percent of their plays. Last season, that number was 55 percent. Through the first three games of 2014, 60 percent of the Sun Devils’ plays were runs.
In the last two games, with Bercovici as the starting quarterback, the Sun Devils ran the ball a mere 34 percent of the time.
Now, let’s be honest, these numbers are skewed a bit. Taylor Kelly is a big part of the running game and the Sun Devils lose a massive chunk of that when he’s not in. Against teams like Weber State, the Sun Devils got up big and ran the ball a lot. Against teams like UCLA, the Sun Devils fell behind by a lot and had to throw to get back in the game.
But against USC, on the road in a game that neither team led by more than nine points, the Sun Devils threw 46 passes as opposed to only 22 runs.
The Sun Devils are going to be a pass-oriented offense in 2015. They won’t give up on the run entirely and throw the ball 70 times per game but it will not be surprising to see them throw the ball 60 percent of the time. There’s only one question.
Who will there be to throw to?
It’s assumed that D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong will leave ASU and enter the NFL draft after this season. Strong is projected to be one of the top receivers on the board and can be a legitimate first-option receiver in the NFL. Foster’s ability to catch out of the backfield and as a slot receiver makes him valuable to NFL teams.
Both players are juniors and could elect to stay one more season. In the unlikely event that happens, the Sun Devils offense will be fantastic in 2015. In the first three games this season with Taylor Kelly, Strong caught 19 passes for 266 yards and Foster caught 13 for 139 yards. In two games with Mike Bercovici – against better competition – Strong had 22 catches for 348 yards and Foster had 10 catches for 139 yards.
Bercovici and Strong have shown good chemistry on the field and that would only get better if the two went through the whole offseason practicing together with the starters.
There’s a slim chance of that happening, though, which means the Sun Devils will need other receivers to make significant improvements to their games, Currently, the Sun Devils have only three receivers with over 10 catches: Strong (41), Foster (21) and Cameron Smith (18).
If Foster and Strong both leave, will guys like Ellis Jefferson (nine catches, 117 yards) and Gary Chambers (five catches, 99 yards) be able to step in? The answer could determine how successful the Sun Devils are.
In The End
The Sun Devils are set up to have another great year offensively in 2015. Mike Bercovici has patiently waited for his turn to lead the Sun Devils and in two full games this season, he did not disappoint. With a full spring and fall camp as the No. 1 quarterback, he should be even better, regardless of who he is throwing the ball to.
The high-flying Sun Devil offense should be fun to watch in 2015. We just have to get through 2014 first.