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Football

Taylor Kelly, Jaelen Strong power Arizona State offense

| Friday, November 7, 2014

Even with their starting quarterback sidelined for three games, the Sun Devils offense has produced.

Junior receiver Jaelen Strong had 30 catches for 323 yards and four touchdowns in Arizona State’s games against UCLA, USC and Stanford, three of which came in the last-minute 38-34 comeback win over USC (6-3, 5-2 Pac-12) on Oct. 4. Meanwhile, senior quarterback Taylor Kelly was sidelined with a broken foot.

Arizona State redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly drops back to pass during Notre Dame’s 37-34 win over the Sun Devils last season.KEVIN SONG | The Observer

Arizona State redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly drops back to pass during Notre Dame’s 37-34 win over the Sun Devils last season.

The two had established themselves last year as one of the most dangerous duos in the Pac-12 and some may argue college football. Kelly threw for 3,635 yards and 28 touchdowns while rushing for 852 yards and nine touchdowns. Strong was Kelly’s top target with 75 receptions for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns.

This season began well for the pair as Strong had 19 catches for 266 yards and 2 touchdowns through the first three games before Kelly’s injury.

While Kelly was hurt, however, Strong’s production continued with junior quarterback Mike Bercovici stepping in.

Since Kelly returned Oct. 25th against Washington, Strong and Kelly have not had huge games. Strong has amassed only eight catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns, but Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he is worried about Kelly returning for Arizona State (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12).

“Taylor Kelly back in the lineup really changes things [for ASU’s offense], I think, in terms of his ability to run the football as well,” Brian Kelly said. “[Taylor Kelly] is extremely elusive and looks for Jaelen Strong, who is as good as any wide receiver in the country.”

Brian Kelly praised Strong’s ability, comparing him to former Irish receiver Michael Floyd.

“[Strong] is athletic, fast, reminds me of Michael Floyd,” Kelly said. “Big, athletic, strong hands, goes up and gets the football — just very dynamic.”

Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham said both Taylor Kelly and Bercovici could run Arizona State’s offense, but Kelly wins games and will continue as the starter.

“Each week, we’re working both Taylor and Bercovici because they both bring great qualities to the field, but Taylor is our guy, and he’s the only quarterback right now I believe in the Pac-12 who is undefeated,” Graham said. “He’s a winner; he’s getting better every rep. … He is not our team, he is a part of our team, so we just have to get prepared and get better.”

Taylor Kelly has continued his winning ways after his return with a 24-10 win over Washington (6-3, 1-2 Pac-12) in Seattle and a 19-16 overtime victory against Utah at home. Graham said a win, regardless of the margin of victory, is how he has evaluated Kelly’s return to the lineup.

“He’s undefeated, and it’s our job to transition him back and having missed six weeks, and he’s coming back playing some really good people,” Graham said.

Brian Kelly said with Taylor Kelly back at quarterback, Notre Dame’s defense must prepare for a difficult task.

“We certainly have had players of [Strong’s] caliber, but he’s a unique blend of speed and size that I don’t know that we’ve quite seen, but clearly we know what we need to do,” Brian Kelly said. “We saw him last year, too, and he’s an outstanding player.”

Arizona State redshirt junior receiver Jaelen Strong races upfield during Notre Dame’s 37-34 win over the Sun Devils last season at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.KEVIN SONG | The Observer

Arizona State redshirt junior receiver Jaelen Strong races upfield during Notre Dame’s 37-34 win over the Sun Devils last season at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The young Irish secondary will need to be aggressive, but only when the situation is appropriate, Kelly said.

“You know, [the corners] are going to have to fight,” Kelly said. “They’re going to have to fight for every possession against [Strong]. I think it’s more about timing. If they have time to get the ball to him, it’s going to be a battle every single time, there’s no question. He’s that good.”

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