No one saw this coming. No one.
Heading into the 2012 offseason, ASU was in a familiar position: Replace the quarterback. After Brock Osweiler left school early to enter the NFL Draft, the Sun Devils were guaranteed to start a different quarterback in their season opener for a fifth straight year.
In the three-man derby for the job, many pegged the polished passing of Mike Bercovici or the physical phenom Michael Eubank to win the job. Few gave a soft-spoken redshirt sophomore from Eagle, Idaho a chance, but Taylor Kelly soon made his doubters pay.
Kelly's mistake-free play earned him the starting job, and after a three-game stretch in which he threw 11 touchdowns without an interception to help ASU to a 6-1 start, Todd Graham's decision appeared sounds.
Kelly and the team, then hit a rough patch, with ASU losing four straight while Kelly tossed seven of his nine interceptions on the year, but both team and quarterback rebounded for a strong end to Year One of the "Speaking Victory" era.
As is the style of the greats, Kelly saved his best performance for last, with an amazing and near-perfect performance against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Taylor Kelly's Stat Line vs. Navy
|COMP||ATT||YDS||%||TD||INT||Rating||Rush Yds||Rush TD|
Kelly wasted no time in getting things rolling.
On the game's opening possession, he connected on two short passes, while the legs of Marion Grice and Cameron Marshall did the heavy work. With the ball at the Navy 16-yard line, Kelly pulled in the Navy defense with a great play fake, and hit Rashad Ross on a slant for the score.
The next Sun Devil drive, it was Kelly's legs that made a major impact. He had carries of nine and 20 yards that got the ball well into Midshipmen territory. After his long run, he hit Chris Coyle perfectly in stride, but the tight end dropped it, marking just one of the two incompletions during Kelly's day. Kelly then completed two passes to DJ Foster to set up Grice's touchdown run.
On ASU's third drive of the first quarter, Kelly again hit a receiver perfectly, this time Grice, but was undone by a drop. Thankfully, that was the last time a ball would hit the grass on the day for the sophomore quarterback. ASU marched down the field once again, and another perfectly executed play fake allowed Kelly to run into the endzone for a very easy one-yard touchdown to cement the route.
Navy was able to score on their next possession, but any thought of a comeback was short lived.
Helped by a good Jamal Miles kickoff return, a Navy penalty and two long Kelly completions, ASU soon found themselves at the Navy 11 in just three plays. Working off of play action once again, Kelly showed nice touch on lofting a pass that Alonzo Agwuenu hauled in for the touchdown.
One of the criticisms of Kelly before and during the season was his perceived lack of arm strength and ability to throw the deep ball. He would soon give those critics two examples of why they should shut up.
With just under a minute left in the first half, Kelly connected with Ross once again, hitting the speedy senior receiver perfectly in stride for a 52-yard touchdown.
Three plays after Robert Nelson's interception ended Navy's opening possession of the second half, it was time for the Kelly-to-Ross connection to resume, this time from 50 yards out.
Kelly would stay in the game and lead two more scoring drives during the third quarter, before yielding the rest of the way to Michael Eubank, with a stunningly efficient and dominant effort on his resume.
Kelly's Second-Best Game: vs. UCLA - 25 of 35, 315 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 55 yards rushing, clutch go-ahead drive late in 4th quarter.